The Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) is one of the most critically endangered marine mammals. Less than 1200 individuals remain, and the species is declining at a rate of approximately 4% per year as a result of juvenile starvation, shark predation, and entanglement in marine debris. Some of these problems may be alleviated by translocation; however, if island breeding aggregates are effectively isolated subpopulations, moving individuals may disrupt local adaptations. In these circumstances, managers must balance the pragmatic need of increasing survival with theoretical concerns about genetic viability. To assess range-wide population structure of the Hawaiian monk seal, we examined an unprecedented, near-complete genetic inventory of the species (n =1897 seals, sampled over 14 years) at 18 microsatellite loci. Genetic variation was not spatially partitioned ((w) =-0.03, p = 1.0), and a Bayesian clustering method provided evidence of one panmictic population (K =1). Pairwise F(ST) comparisons (among 7 island aggregates over 14 annual cohorts) did not reveal temporally stable, spatial reproductive isolation. Our results coupled with long-term tag-resight data confirm seal movement and gene flow throughout the Hawaiian Archipelago. Thus, human-mediated translocation of seals among locations is not likely to result in genetic incompatibilities.
©2010 Society for Conservation Biology.