One of the world’s most endangered seal species has some flippin’ good news.
The population of Hawaiian monk seals, an animal found in the wild only in Hawaii, has surpassed 1,500 seals, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced this week.
That’s higher than their numbers have been in more than 20 years, which is good news not only for them, but for the environment as a whole.
“If we have healthy monk seals, we know that the ecosystem that is supporting those animals is healthy and thriving,” Michelle Barbieri, lead scientist with the NOAA’s monk seal research program, told The Associated Press.
The expressive-faced creatures are up against a slew of threats. A big one is habitat loss caused by climate change, as rising sea levels swallow up the low-lying landmasses where the seals live.
Other dangers include getting tangled up in fishing nets and other marine debris, eating harmful trash like fishing hooks, diseases, disturbances from human activity on beaches, and even some people intentionally killing them.
“We are out there ourselves and working with partners to conduct life-saving interventions for seals, prioritizing females, which are going to go on to create the future generation of seals,” Barbieri told the AP. “We’re starting to really see that continued payoff of intervening to save animals’ lives.”
In the Hawaiian language, monk seals are called ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, which translates to “dog running in the rough water.” The marine mammals can grow between 6 and 7 feet long and weigh 400-600 pounds, feeding on a wide array of fish, octopus, squid, crustaceans and eels. On occasion, those eels cause their own kind of trouble, sometimes getting stuck in seals’ noses. Thankfully, all the seals the NOAA has encountered with this highly specific problem have been OK in the end.