About the Protected Species Division

PSD outreach
Brenda Becker hosting a Hawaiian monk seal outreach booth at the Kids Earth Day Fair at the Pearl Harbor Navy Exchange.
Green sea turble and hawaiian monk seal
Green sea turtle and Hawaiian Monk seal, French Frigate Shoals, NWHI. Photo by George Balazs.
Dolphins
Spinner dolphins are found throughout the Pacific Islands Region. NOAA Photo by Marie Chapla.

The mission of the Protected Species Division is to provide the scientific foundation for conservation of Hawaiian monk seals, cetaceans and sea turtles in the Pacific islands. Recovery and maintenance of healthy marine mammal and sea turtle populations and their habitats is part of NOAA Fisheries' broad responsibility for marine ecosystem conservation. The Protected Species Division's research and monitoring programs are guided by mandates of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, and international agreements.

Background

The Hawaiian monk seal is the only endangered marine mammal found entirely within the United States. Most Hawaiian monk seals occur at six primary locations in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands: French Frigate Shoals, Laysan and Lisianski Islands, Pearl and Hermes Reef, and Kure and Midway Atolls. The population is currently estimated at approximately 1,300 - 1,400 animals. Despite decades of protection and management which have enhanced population growth at some locations, including the main Hawaiian Islands, overall population numbers continue to decline. The species is now considered to be highly endangered to the point that a natural catastrophe, such as a disease epidemic or a mass biotoxin poisoning event, could lead to extinction.

Twenty-five species of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) occur in U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters of the Pacific Ocean. Six of these species - humpback whales, sperm whales, blue whales, fin whales, sei whales, and North Pacific right whales - are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and their stocks are considered depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Sea turtles are designated worldwide as threatened and endangered. The principal species of concern to Pacific Islanders are the green (threatened) and hawksbill (endangered) turtles. Population declines have occurred in the Pacific Islands as the result of nesting habitat loss and excessive and widespread harvesting for commercial and subsistence purposes. Both turtle species have recently become the focus of considerable conservation efforts by the Regional Marine Turtle Conservation Programme of the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme which represents 22 Pacific island nations. Other protected sea turtles of concern in the Pacific Islands Region include the loggerhead, leatherback, and olive ridley.