University of California, Santa Cruz
A NOAA-sanctioned plush monk seal toy posing with its real-life counterpart, the endangered Hawaiin monk seal.

Monk Seal Plush Toy Funds Endangered Real-Life Counterpart


Come and get ’em, before they are gone—that is, sold out.

That’s the Real Seal.

A team at the University of California, Santa Cruz is selling six-inch-long replicas of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, each one specially emblazoned with a unique identification number bestowed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Proceeds from sales of the $39.95 plush toy will go toward researching and saving this endangered species, which is best known for whirling around in the water incessantly.

RELATED: Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal Spins Like a Top

Timing is crucial, because the plush toys are as rare as their real-life counterparts—only 1,100 seals were made, to match the number of actual seals in existence.

"Currently, it is teetering at 1,100 animals left in the wild, and the species is expected to go extinct in the next 50 years if things do not change,” said Terrie Williams, a marine biologist and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, in a statement. “That's within the lifetime of our newest generation of young marine biologists.”

The purchase is set up almost as an “adoption,” Williams said.

"The person buying the toy is sponsoring the real seal swimming in the wild, and they are the sole sponsor for their seal, supporting research to help save the species," said Williams, who got the idea after the federal government cut funds for Hawaiian monk seal research and public awareness, just as the animal’s population hit a critical point.

Besides shelling out the purchase price, prospective plus seal buyers will have to “describe a conservation action they will take on behalf of Hawaiian monk seals and the oceans,” the university said in its statement. Such actions can include cleaning up a beach or writing to federal legislators. In turn, sponsoring a Real Seal nets buyers access to detailed information about the seal, such as its age, sex, year of birth and island home location. Conservation information is also available at the website, along with education plans for teachers and a list of the other sponsors and conservation ideas, the university said.

The monk seal is known to Native Hawaiians as ʻIlio-holo-i-ka-uaua, or "dog that runs in rough water,” according to the website Save the Hawaiian Monk Seal, part of the Marine Mammal Center, a nonprofit veterinary research hospital and educational center that rescues and rehabilitates ill and injured marine mammals. 

Seals can be bought at the UC Santa Cruz Save Monk Seals web page.


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ypochris's picture
Submitted by ypochris on
Although a primary pupping island has been submerged as a result of rising sea levels due to global warming, there is hope for the Hawaiian Monk Seal - they have expanded their range, returning to the main Hawaiian Islands where they had been wiped out during pre-contact times. Although the seals have no fear of humans, relaxing on the beach while people walk by or even sit by them and establish a rapport, in the cases of the Monk seals I have seen Hawaiians now treat them with great respect rather than eating them. Although they have not yet been known to breed on the main islands, it is highly likely they did so in the past and may do so again. This significant expansion (1200 miles) in their range could be what saves the Hawaiian Monk Seal. Well, that and G. W. Bush's most important act - establishing a National Marine Sanctuary around the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. The lobster boats were wiping out the Monk seals' primary food source. But with those atolls going under as the sea rises, recolonizing the main Hawaiian islands is the only hope for the long term survival of the Hawaiian Monk Seal.