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New Name for Hawaiian Monk Seal Gifted by Molokaʻi Immersion School Students

July 29, 2021, 8:30 AM HST
* Updated July 29, 8:18 AM
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Students at a Molokaʻi charter school bestowed a name for one of the island’s Hawaiian monk seals.

One-year-old male seal Kepuhinui was born on Molokaʻi during the COVID-19. As a result, he did not get tags attached to his hind flippers, which is often done for young monk seals — so his new Hawaiian name is giving him an added identity, Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response (HMAR) officials stated in a press release.

Meet Kepuhinui, The Great One of Kepuhi Beach. Born on Molokai during the COVID-19
pandemic, Kepuhinui did not get tags attached to his hind flippers, which is often done for young monk seal pups, so
now his gifted Hawaiian name is an added identity. Photo courtesy of Hawaii Marine Animal Response (HMAR).

On May 27, 2021, nearly 20 second-grade students from the Hawaiian language immersion Kualapuʻu Charter School participated in a haku inoa, or name weaving exercise. This process uses environmental, geographical, astronomical, and cultural information particular to a specific seal, in order to weave together a unique name.

In their talk-story-style discussions, students gravitated toward a popular nearby beach, Kepuhi, which is frequented by a number of seals, visitors, as well as surfers, fishers, and local families. The students then added nui, which connotes an individual with regal or meaningful presence.

They chose Kepuhinui, meaning The Great One of Kepuhi Beach.

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“When our kids get to name one of these rare animals, they elevate visibility for how unique each of these seals are,” said Todd Yamashita, the Molokaʻi Operations Manager for HMAR, who conducts community engagement and other species conservation work on Molokaʻi. “I want our kids to know that this is their seal, that it’s Hawaiian like them, and something they can feel good about. Our kids already understand and practice kuleana (responsibility), so it’s cool to reflect back to them that they already play an active role in conservation and community building.”

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Developed in partnership by HMAR and local Molokaʻi-based curriculum developer Maile Naehu of Ka Hale Hoaka, and in collaboration with NOAA Fisheries and the Hawaiʻi Department of Land & Natural Resources (DLNR), the naming process shares the history, biology, and cultural importance of Hawaiian monk seals. In addition, it helps students realize the important conservation role they play in their community.

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