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Documentary looking into plight of monk seals

July 4, 2014 - 12:05am

A new documentary seeks to raise awareness about the Hawaiian monk seals. “One by One” is an independent documentary being directed and produced by California filmmakers Robin and Andrew Eitelberg.

With a population of barely 1,100, every single seal is important to the survival of the species. “The number one question we get asked is: Why are the monk seals worth saving? It’s a really personal question with a lot of different answers,” says Robin. “We want to help people find their reason to love the seals.”

The nonprofit documentary will focus on the variety of conservation efforts happening across Hawaii, including the farthest reaches of the archipelago. Filming began last fall, and the directors will spend this summer finishing filming Hawaii. They recently documented the successful rescue of hooked seal RN58, known to many as “Luana.”

“Luana was the perfect story to film, because it really showed how all these efforts are working together to make a difference,” said Robin Eitelberg. “The volunteer responders from the Monk Seal Foundation were out looking for her, and kept NOAA informed so they could catch her and bring her in for an examination. But they only knew to look for her because the fisherman who hooked her called in to report it. She’s alive because he did the right thing.”

Not everyone is welcoming to the seals. The species has been met with a lot of controversy in Hawaii because of a lack of awareness, and confusion about their origins. A documentary, they hope, will help residents and visitors find compassion for this unique and ancient Hawaiian species.

The filmmaking duo met while studying film at the University of California, Berkeley. Their passion for the environment and drive to use documentaries as a tool for change drew them together, in work and in life. The pair married in 2009, and are pursuing their dream of traveling the world making films, starting with monk seals.

“There have been other projects about the Hawaiian monk seal, but nothing that attempts to explain their situation in this kind of detail,” said Andrew Eitelberg. The filmmakers are working closely with NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program to complete the film. They are also collaborating with The Marine Mammal Center to film at Ke Kai Ola, a brand new monk seal hospital that recently opened in Kailua-Kona.

The project is currently self-funded, but now they are reaching out to the public to help cover expenses. The fundraising campaign seeks to raise $30,000 by Aug. 15. Watch their videos and learn more about the project at

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