Review and images by Birdsage; edited by bmathison1972
Hawaiian monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi) are the subject of several myths that put it in danger. It is sometimes thought that they are an invasive species not indigenous to Hawaii, but brought there by humans in very recent history. In fact, the species is significant in Native Hawaiian folklore and is not only native, but endemic to this particular area. Some fishermen believe that the seals are eating too many saltwater gamefish in Hawaiian waters. While they do eat fish, they do not specialize in gamefish targeted by anglers. There are more false urban legends about them too. It is even occasionally thought that they attract sharks and put people at risk for shark attacks. While monk seals are a prey item for some sharks in Hawaiian waters, the danger of these sharks to humans is minuscule and a whole world of myths in itself. Possibly due to these misguided beliefs, there have been cases of the seals having been killed illegally by humans on the island of Kauai. The Hawaiian monk seal is protected by the state and the Endangered Species act and is classified as Endangered by the IUCN.
In honor of International Day of the Seal, here is my review of the K&M Hawaiian Monk Seal [Editor’s note: this review was submitted on March 22nd, which was the formal International Day of the Seal].
This figure was released in 1998 by K&M International (Wild Republic) within the AZA Collection. The series appears to have been licensed by the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, an organization that promotes animal welfare and conservation causes for zoos and aquariums, and accredits those that follow its health, safety, and welfare guidelines. The series also featured a baby (pup) version of the Hawaiian monk seal, along with various species more commonly represented in toy form. These two figures appear to be the only toy figurines of Hawaiian monk seals by any larger brands (although plush monk seals have been made by National Geographic, Douglas Cuddle Toy, and various Hawaiian souvenir companies).
The soft plastic figure is approximately 16 centimeters (around 6 inches) long and 5 centimeters, (about 2 inches) tall. That makes it about 1:15 scale for a female or 1:13 for a male. The colors seem accurate; it is primarily dark gray above with dull tan on the underside extending from the lower jaw to the tail end of the body, leaving the front and hind flippers gray. The digits of the flippers are sculpted in and are pretty accurate, although the claws are not present. The claws may have been quite a bit too small to be sculpted in.
The eyes on its rather endearing face are black with white dots, which is typical for K&M figures. The nose is sculpted with nostrils and whisker follicles, but no actual whiskers, as they would not be able to be depicted on a fairly small plastic toy. One of the more glaring inaccuracies is the lack of ear holes. Monk seals are a type of “earless” seal, and it is true that they do not have external ear flaps, but they do have ear holes on each side of their head. These are sculpted in many figures of earless seals, but they are, oddly enough, not depicted on this figure. They are depicted on the much smaller harbor seal figure from K&M’s Kelp Forest Tube, so there is really not much of a reason for them not to be there.
The figure is marked with both its common name and its scientific name. This example has several small paint chips and blemishes and plenty of scratches from being played with by the previous owner.
Figures from K&M’s AZA series are rare. I acquired my example through eBay in late 2019, in a lot of toy animals including cartoon and glow-in-the-dark toys, Safari Ltd. TOOB and Monterey Bay Aquarium figures, Marvel Education sea life figures, and a handful of K&M figures like this one. As with most retired K&M figures, searching eBay and trading is your best bet, and even then, good luck finding this one or its smaller counterpart. The figure is not necessarily on par with pinniped figures by Safari, Schleich, or Papo, but its uniqueness makes it worth targeting for species, marine life, or pinniped collectors if its large size appeals to you. If you want a smaller scale of figure, try to find the pup instead.