Pacific Islands Region

Rare Monk Seal Skeleton on Display for a Limited Time at
Maui Sanctuary Education Center

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Pacific Islands Region is proud to announce the opening of a new display on Maui: a monk seal skeleton assembled by sanctuary volunteer Renee Lackey. The skeleton is currently the only one in the world available for public viewing and can been seen at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (HIHWNMS) Education Center.

Renee Lackey and the Hawaiian monk seal she rearticulated.
Renee Lackey and the Hawaiian monk seal she rearticulated. (Photo: Michael Sullivan)

Renee, a volunteer with the HIHWNMS Maui office for the past 10 years has rearticulated (put back together) skeletons of the monk seal and a rough-tooth dolphin, and is now working on a spinner dolphin. Renee had no previous experience with marine mammal skeletons, but was mentored by fellow volunteer Charlene Lewis. She gathered additional information from sources such as the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, and the Internet.

"I felt very privileged for the opportunity to complete this project", Renee said. "I appreciate all the support and encouragement the sanctuary program provided me during the project." She found the most challenging part was posing and mounting the skeleton. It required taking many measurements, and putting the skeleton together and taking it apart several times to get it right.

The monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) also has the Hawaiian name is 'Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua roughly translating to "the dog that runs in rough water". Looking at the skull of the monk seal, it is easy to see the similarities between a dog and the monk seal in their teeth and jawbones.

When she was alive, this Hawaiian monk seal was known to NOAA scientists as BK11. She died of natural causes on Pearl and Hermes Reef in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands at age 18 in 2003. Her body was collected by a team from NOAA, Chad Yoshinaga, Jason Baker and Marie Cahoon. The skeleton was cleaned by Phil Bruner at Brigham Young University Hawaii. It took Renee 425 hrs to rebuild the skeleton.

Renee was the Regional Sanctuary of the Year volunteer in 2009 and represented the program at the annual Capitol Hill Oceans Week held in Washington DC. She was able to meet with other volunteers from around the national sanctuary programs. She also chatted with Senator Inouye, Senator Akaka, Congressman Abercrombie and Congresswoman Hirono about her volunteer work at the Kihei sanctuary office.

The monk seal bones are the property of the National Marine Fisheries Service (Scientific Research and Enhancement Permit number 848-1695) and are on an extended loan to the sanctuary program. The skeleton will eventually move this summer to the Waikiki Aquarium, where it will be part of a new exhibit on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

For the time being, visitors and residents can check out the monk seal skeleton at the Kihei Sanctuary Education Center at 726 S. Kihei Rd., from 10 am to 3pm Monday through Friday. Admission is free!

For more information contact Patty Miller at 808-879-2818 x21.

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