Interesting facts about protected wildlife in Hawaii

That Hawaiian Islands are home to some amazing and unique animals.

However, as some populations of these animals decline, it becomes a civic duty for all to help protect the dwindling species critical to Hawaiian culture.

Fox News Digital spoke to Ryan Jenkinson of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR); He is a member of the Department of Protected Species and Aquatic Resources.

Jenkinson said the department’s goal is to find a balance between human interaction and animal welfare.

With that goal in mind, Jenkinson emphasized that harassment of certain species is a federal offense — as is failure to respect the people of Hawaii.

“These animals are such an important and vital part of the culture here,” he said. “So by approach [to them] to take a picture… not only is it harassing the animal, but it is honestly disrespectful to the people here.”

The next time you head to these beautiful islands, here’s what you should know about some of Hawaii’s endangered and protected species.

1. Hawaiian monk seal

The Hawaiian monk seal is not only one of Hawaii’s greatest cultural icons, but also one of the rarest mammals in the world.

The native monk seal is critically endangered, with only 1,400 seals left on earth.

The sex ratio is 50:50, giving extra protection to the 700 female seals that can have offspring.

Jenkinson warned beachgoers who might encounter monk seals to be wary of pregnant or young mother seals, which can become aggressive, especially in the water.

“Be really careful with them because they are such valuable animals in the context of trying to save the species as a whole,” he said.

The monk seal earned its name because of its solitary nature. This species of seal usually travels alone; The animals forage deep in the ocean, then come to shore to find warm, cozy spots to spread out on the beach.

“They don’t do much,” said the expert with a smile. “You’re just sleeping. They get warm in the sun.”

A hawksbill sea turtle swims on Lady Elliot Island, Australia on January 15, 2012.
A hawksbill sea turtle swims on Lady Elliot Island, Australia on January 15, 2012.
Getty Images

2. Sea Turtles

Green sea turtles, also known as honu, are an integral part of Hawaiian culture, but their population numbers are debatable.

The hawksbill sea turtle is the rarest and most endangered; These creatures are difficult to spot as they reside in more remote areas.

The green sea turtle, on the other hand, is more commonly spotted in Hawaii’s waters.

Although it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two turtle species, the more common green sea turtle is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act because its population is increasing at about 5% each year.

The green sea turtles that cling to Hawaii’s waters are among the few in the world that crawl onto land.

Visitors should be careful to give the turtles 20 to 30 feet of space so as not to startle them and force them to expend limited energy.

“Be super excited about the experiences you can have with these animals, but don’t bother them. Don’t chase them around,” Jenkinson advised.

“Stay back out of respect for the people here and the animals.”

Green sea turtles can live up to 70 years. Some females don’t start reproducing until they are about 30 years old – only then do they come ashore to lay their eggs.

“They’re nesting like crazy on the main islands now,” he commented. “I don’t know many other animals that wait that long to reproduce.”

Sea turtle nests can look like one big pit – so think twice before building a bonfire in ruts on the beach.

False killer whales are extremely endangered.
False killer whales are extremely endangered.

3. Fake Killer Whales

False killer whales are not what you would expect.

The small whale gets its name from its skull structure, which resembles that of the legendary orca – but the false killer whale is almost dolphin-like.

Large groups of false killer whales live far offshore in Hawaii, but there is a small group of insular false killer whales that reside on the main islands – and they are extremely endangered.

There are only an estimated 150 of these whales left in Hawaii. That’s a number so low that experts are concerned about the species’ existence, especially since Hawaii’s false killer whales don’t mate with whales from foreign pods.

These whales are known to be particularly social with humans. Authorities recommend that all sightings by fishermen or others be reported.

Because these island whales live in very close-knit families and tend to share their food among their pods, they also occasionally swim to boats and flop their catch of the day on deck to share with the fishermen as well.

Although this type of behavior can be considered adorable, Jenkinson discouraged travelers from jumping in the water and joining a bunch of new whale friends.

Spinner dolphins swim in the east island of Hawaii.
Spinner dolphins swim in the east island of Hawaii.
Gamma Rapho via Getty Images

4. Spinner dolphins and white tip sharks

Spinner dolphins are not listed as endangered or threatened, but it is still important that the public approach these commonly seen dolphins with caution.

Many tour companies offering swim-with-dolphin trips will take advantage of the fact that dolphins sleep in bowls, Jenkinson suggested. The presence of numerous swimmers near sleepless dolphins will inevitably drive them away.

New federal rules prohibit you from approaching within 50 meters of spinner dolphins, even if the animals head for humans first.

“Look for tour operators that will tell you they don’t just drive up to a group of them and throw you in the water,” Jenkinson said. “You will be respectful of the space.”

The same goes for sharks. While swimming with sharks as part of a tour is not illegal, experts do not recommend approaching sharks in the water.

“They’re still sharks — they’re going to bite you,” Jenkinson said. “They’re pretty soft for the most part, even the big tiger sharks.”

Pelagic species such as whitetip sharks, which are listed and protected by the state under the Endangered Species Act, often get tangled in fishing lines; Jenkinson said any whitetip shark sighting should be reported. These sharks are easily identified by the white pattern on their fins.

Hawaii's state bird, the Hawaiian goose, also known as the Nene, is a threatened species, Branta sandvicensis, also known as Nesochen sandvicensis, endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, Hotelhof, Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii.
Hawaii’s state bird, the Hawaiian goose, also known as the nene, is an endangered species.
Universal Images Group via Getty Images

5. Hawaiian Goose and Hawaii’s Forest Birds

The Hawaiian goose, also known as the Nene, is in the process of recovery, having dwindled to just 30 birds in the 1950s.

Josh Atwood of DLNR’s Forest and Wildlife Division told Fox News Digital that there have been various efforts to restore the native species. He advised against approaching Nene – Hawaii’s state bird – if you encountered it.

“The species here in Hawaii are an integral part of Hawaiian culture and our daily lives,” he said. “We only ask that visitors be respectful of all wildlife…Try not to disturb them.”

Atwood mentioned that Hawaii as a whole has a “really high” number of nearly 600 state-listed threatened species, including woodland birds, whose decline is worrying.

Visitors are unlikely to encounter birds such as ‘Akikiki and ‘Akeke’e’ directly as so much of the species has already been lost; but an awareness of the Hawaiian landscape can help protect bird habitat. For example, Atwood suggested cleaning hiking boots before trekking into the mountains, bringing in foreign seeds and diseases.

In a statement last week, DLNR said it was forecasting a “bleak outlook” for some of Hawaii’s honeycreeper birds, whose populations are being decimated due to invasive mosquitoes that spread avian malaria.

There are only 45 ‘Akikiki birds left on Kauai and 135 Kiwikiu birds on Maui – both threatened with extinction within the next two years.

“The report paints a bleak future for the birds,” the press release said. “Compared to the past two decades, there are far fewer birds and their available range has been significantly reduced as species migrate higher into the mountains to escape mosquitoes.” Interesting facts about protected wildlife in Hawaii


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