Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) - Punalu'u, Oahu, Hawaii

On April 21st, it was raining, I was sitting on the futon in my long Hawaiian dress contemplating cocktail hour. I looked out the patio doors to the ocean and thought I saw a sea turtle really close to the shore. I hiked up the skirt in one hand, camera in the other and rushed to the sea!
It wasn't a sea turtle at all.  It was a Hawaiian monk seal, Monachus schauinslandi, an endangered species of earless seal in the Phocidae family that is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands.  This seal posed for me like a seasoned professional model.
These photos were taken with my Canon PowerShot D20 waterproof camera.  I used the 20X optical zoom.
The seal was not afraid of me, but I kept my distance as I was  afraid of it.
It was hanging around the rocky sea wall about twenty yards from our beach house, where lots of sand crabs live. 
I was so thrilled this seal stuck around for photos before swimming away. 

The very next morning a seal was resting on the beach where I took my morning walks.  I got these amazing photos again using the 20x optical zoom. 
The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world. Part of the "true seal" family (Phocidae), they are one of only two remaining monk seal species. The other is the Mediterranean monk seal. A third monk seal species--the Caribbean monk seal--is extinct.
Isolated from their closest relative 15 million years ago, Hawaiian monk seals are considered a "living fossil" because of their distinct evolutionary lineage.
Monk seals are named for the folds of skin on their head that look like a monk's hood and because they spend most of their time alone or in small groups.
The ancient Hawaiian name is "llio holo I ka uaua" meaning "dog that runs in rough water."
These photos were taken during low tide.
Then I went back to our beach house, ate breakfast and returned about an hour later.
 As the tide was coming in the seal swam back into the ocean.
Holy smokes, two encounters with an endangered species in two days!  Memories I will cherish, the rest of my life.

According to Wikipedia:  "The Hawaiian monk seal is critically endangered,[21] although its cousin species the Mediterranean monk seal (M. monachus) is even rarer, and the Caribbean monk seal (M. tropicalis), last sighted in the 1950s, was officially declared extinct in June 2008.[22] The population of Hawaiian monk seals is in decline. In 2010, it was estimated that only 1100 individuals remained. The larger population that inhabits the northwest islands is declining.[23][24]
Seals nearly disappeared from the main Hawaiian Islands, but the population has begun to recover. The growing population there was approximately 150 as of 2004.[20] Individuals have been sighted in surf breaks and on beaches in Kauaʻi, Niʻihau and Maui. In early June 2010, two seals hauled out on Oʻahu's popular Waikiki beach. Seals have hauled out at O'ahu's Turtle Bay,[25] and again beached at Waikiki on March 4, 2011, by the Moana Hotel. Yet another adult came ashore for a rest next to the breakwater in Kapiolani Park Waikiki on the morning of 11 December 2012, after first being spotted traveling west along the reef break from the Aquarium side of the Park. In 2006, twelve pups were born in the main Hawaiian Islands, rising to thirteen in 2007, and eighteen in 2008. As of 2008 43 pups had been counted in the main Hawaiian islands.[26]
The Hawaiian monk seal was officially designated as an endangered species on November 23, 1976, and is now protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It is illegal to kill, capture or harass a Hawaiian monk seal. Even with these protections, human activity along Hawaii's fragile coastlines (and in the world at large) still provides many stressors.[27]"

Dear Readers, have you ever seen a Hawaii monk seal?  Have you ever seen a seal in real life? 

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