A new fund supporting Hawaiian monk seal research has been established at the University of Hawaii Foundation.
Marilyn Dunlap, associate director of the Pacific Biosciences Research Center and director of the Biological Electron Microscope Facility, has donated $45,000 to the UH Foundation to create the DB and Marilyn Dunlap Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Fund.
“When DB saw his first Hawaii monk seal and realized the need for community involvement, protecting and preserving them became his passion,” said Marilyn Dunlap in a news release. “He never did anything in moderation. He did everything full-tilt. He saw a need and rather than expecting someone else to do it, he jumped in.”
The fund will support research at the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR), particularly in its collaborative work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
DB Dunlap fell in love with Hawaiian monk seals, a critically endangered species, after seeing his first one on Sandy Beach in 2001. After that, he spent his days searching Oahu’s coastlines or peering at Rabbit Island from Makai Pier, gathering voluminous details of monk seal behavior that now form a core of knowledge about local monk seal ethology.
He responded to monk seal sightings and beachings all over the island, recording nearly 20,000 between 2003 to 2017. He could identify individual animals, all of which were affectionately named, by sight as well as the particular ways they moved. His daily reports and data went to NOAA.
“When I started with NOAA’s monk seal work 15 years ago, DB was already part of the infrastructure,” said Charles Littnan, director of NOAA’s Protected Species Division. “He was a valuable unofficial partner with us and inspired the formation of the monk seal conservation community across the island. It wasn’t his job, it was a mission. He was a great advocate for the species.”
Dunlap said she is hopeful the gift will allow JIMAR and NOAA to do the work not supported by federal funding, and to continue to educate people about the seals and their value to the environment.
It is the first private gift to JIMAR and the only fund at the university’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology dedicated to supporting the research of Hawaiian monk seals.