Officials warn Hawaii beachgoers are ‘risking their safety’ around monk seals

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Officials from local and federal agencies are joining forces to again warn beachgoers of the risks they face while Kaiwi and her pup are in the area.

Ten-year-old seal, Kaiwi, gave birth to her fourth pup two weeks ago at Kaimana Beach.

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“Like all mothers, monk seals are very protective of their pups,” said David Schofield, NOAA Fisheries Regional Marine Mammal Response Coordinator. “While they are resting on the beach, they look docile, but once they go into the water they can move very, very fast, like lightning speed. If a mother seal detects any threat to her pup, she is likely to attack and that is a major concern for us.”

The Department of Land and Natural Resources gave one such example:

In 2009, a tourist encountered a mother seal and her pup, while snorkeling 25-50 yards offshore a remote beach on Kauai.

“A volunteer came running over the dune saying a swimmer had just been attacked,” said Earl Miyamoto, who was on pup-watch duty that day. “She was bleeding profusely from the mouth and nose and she kept saying, my hand, my hand.”

DLNR said the seal likely had her entire head in its mouth and that the woman’s snorkel mask protected her face. However, her skull was fractured, and the seal’s bite broke every bone in one hand.

“This is a wild animal; the ocean is the seal’s home,” said Miyamoto. “If you are out there swimming and it doesn’t matter how strong of a swimmer you are, if that seal decides you are a threat, you have no chance of escaping.” 

Swimmers, snorkelers and paddlers are advised to switch beaches for the next month or so. The pup is expected to wean from its mother by then. 

DOCARE Chief Jason Redulla commented,

“We all understand that seals resting on the beach get people’s attention. By our very nature we’re curious,” said DOCARE Chief Jason Redulla. “That brings the challenge of controlling people and their behaviors, to not only protect themselves, but the animals as well. The last thing any of us wants to see, is someone getting hurt.” 

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