• Hawaiian monk seal;
  • Monachus schauinslandi;
  • precious corals;
  • deep-water corals;
  • forage habitat;
  • subphotic;
  • endangered species


Plans to harvest deep-water corals in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, close to populations of endangered Hawaiian monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi), have raised concerns about the seals' use of deep-water habitats. Movements and diving patterns of seals studied at French Frigate Shoals (FFS) Atoll indicated two areas where five males out of 33 instrumented seals dove deep enough (300–500 m) to encounter commercially sought deep-water corals. Submarine surveys conducted at each location found beds of gold (Gerurdia sp.) and pink (Corallium sp.) precious coral suggesting an overlap between the foraging habitat of some seals and the target of the coral fishery. Areas adjacent to the coral beds that were visually censused using submersibles showed significantly fewer precious corals. Precious coral beds were not found on previous submarine surveys at other regions around FFS, supporting the notion that seals were selecting the areas with corals as forage habitat. Five male seals were fitted with back-mounted video cameras to document feeding among precious corals. None of the five seals dove deep enough to encounter precious corals (>300 m). However, three of the seals visited beds of black coral (Cirrhipdhes sp.) at shallower depths (∼ 80 m). One seal was observed revisiting the black coral beds on three successive nights to feed on fish hiding among the coral stems.