Sociocultural significance of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and the human dimensions of conservation planning

John N. Kittinger, Trisann Mahealani Bambico, Trisha Kehaulani Watson, Edward W. Glazier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The Hawaiian monk seal Monachus schauinslandi is Critically Endangered, but relatively little is known about the sociocultural significance of the species in Native Hawaiian communities. An accurate assessment of historical and modern sociocultural values and perceptions is needed to inform conservation and recovery planning for the species, particularly since the species is not universally well-regarded by ocean users. We conducted extensive archival research and oral history interviews to characterize past and current human-monk seal relationships in the Hawaiian archipelago. We report heterogeneity in both historical and contemporary cultural associations for monk seals, which appear to be related to place-specific histories and specific stakeholder groups. We introduce the concept of 'cultural endemism' to characterize this pattern of sociocultural heterogeneity, and discuss the relevance of shifting baselines, species recovery, and sociocultural information to conservation planning. We focus on participatory conservation planning approaches as being potentially useful in reducing human-wildlife conflicts and developing collaborative stewardship for better conservation success.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-156
Number of pages18
JournalEndangered Species Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Cultural endemism
  • Endangered species
  • Historical ecology
  • Human-environment interactions
  • Participatory management
  • Shifting baselines
  • Wildlife conflict

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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