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Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal Spins Like a Top

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Workers at the aquarium say they don’t know why he does it but he certainly does it often. Type “monk seal spinning” into Google and a number of videos pop up.

Maka onaona is one of two male Hawaiian monk seals living at the Waik?k? Aquarium in Hawaii.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world and their numbers are declining. Only about 1,100 monk seals remain today.

The seals are native to Hawaii—they live nowhere else—and are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Hawaii state law.

“In recorded history there have only been four seals born on the main Hawaiian islands,” says “Two of those births occurred in 1991 on the North shores of Oahu and Kauai. In both cases, volunteers from the community guarded the mother and pup from a distance to ensure that they would not be disturbed.”

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In Native Hawaiian they are called Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua or “the dog that runs in the rough (seas).” According to the Waik?k? Aquarium website, monk seals have been known to dive to depths of up to 500 meters and stay underwater for up to 20 minutes while hunting. They can live up to 30 years, can grow to be 8 feet long and can weigh 400 to 600 pounds.

Some Native Hawaiians regard monk seals aumakua or the “family or personal gods, deified ancestors who might assume the shape of...[various animals],” reports Impact Assessment, Inc. in a study they prepared titled “Historical and Contemporary Significance of the Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal in Native Hawaiian Culture.”

“Some communities have conducted spiritual ceremonies for monk seals during which the monk seal is recognized as part of the ‘ohana, or family,” reads the study.

“In one account from the island of Moloka‘i, a kupuna (community elder) told of a monk seal who appeared in the area in 1947 and washed up without a head. The kupuna indicated it was the work of Kauhuhu, the famed shark god of the area who patrolled the waters from Moananui to Pelekunu. Another mo‘olelo (oral traditions/stories) from Hawai‘i Island tells of a pair of lovers who suffered the wrath of the jealous shark god Kua. After his affections were spurned, he curses the woman, turning her into a monk seal and her male companion into a dragonfly so the two could not be together. The pair was later reunited in their human forms by the god K?,” the study says.