Second-grade students from Kualapuʻu Charter School have given a Hawaiian monk seal born on Molokai a special name: Kepuhinui, which means “the great one of Kepuhi Beach.”
The name was gifted to the 1-year-old, male seal, previously known as L4, on May 27, according to the nonprofit, Hawaii Marine Animal Response.
Kepuhinui was born on Molokai during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, and did not get tags attached to his hind flippers, the usual protocol for young monk seals.
The students were able to get together after a year of remote learning to name the seal, with nearly 20 Hawaiian language immersion students participating in a “haku inoa,” or name weaving exercise that takes environmental, geographical, astronomical, and cultural information into account.
After several talk-story discussions, the students gravitated toward a popular nearby beach, Kepuhi, which is frequented by seals, visitors, surfers, fishers, and local families. The students then added “nui,” which connotes an individual with a regal or meaningful presence.
Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species, with a population of only about 1,400 remaining in the wild. They are protected by both state and federal laws, and are Hawaii’s official state mammal.
HMAR worked with Molokai-based curriculum developer Maile Naehu of Ka Hale Hoaka, and in collaboration with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources in the naming process, with the goal of sharing the history, biology, and cultural importance of Hawaiian monk seals.
The kids that named Kepuhinui are now part of his “circle of protectors,” said kumu Loke Han, a teacher at Kualapu‘u Charter School, and they share a special bond.
“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, Molokai operations manager for HMAR in a news release. “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.”