“Get out of bed. Take a walk on the beach,” a quiet voice whispered in the depths of morning slumber. I pulled up the cotton sheet, rolled over onto my left side and went back to sleep. Less than thirty minutes later, I felt the nudge again. “Get up. Throw on some shorts and take a walk on the beach.” I thought Gerald was awake, so I touched his shoulder. He opened his sleepy eyes and said, “What is it?” “Let’s go for a walk. Right now…..to watch the sunrise,” I urged. Minutes later, we rolled out of bed, grabbed our glasses, and headed out the door. As we were digging our feet into the soft, salty sand leaving a path of footsteps behind, suddenly there appeared some commotion slightly beyond the shoreline in the ocean. We turned our sights to discover the oldest known marine mammal on the earth: the Hawaiian Monk Seal! With each wave, she “surfed”, then waddled onto the beach as if totally exhausted. At first we thought she was stranded and wishing to return to the sea. Not so. It was evident she was an expectant mother. It was also evident she had survived dangerous shark attacks by the scar tissue on her dark blackish-silver back and the jaw imprint left on her lighter-colored belly. Definitely shark. Her left eye also indicated she was blind in that eye. I squatted down to get a better look at her. “Hey there”, I said softly. “Are you okay?” She raised her head, before lowering it again, and then proceeded to bury her face in the sand. By this time, two more couples approached and explained a little more about this critically endangered species.
This is her story (as posted on a beach sign):
“Aloha, Kākou! My name is K13. I am an adult female Hawaiian Monk Seal, one of an estimated 1300 of us left. In December 2011, I was attacked by a shark. Eventually, I healed on my own. I was already pregnant at the time so on April 29, 2012, I gave birth to a healthy female pup. Then on April 15, 2015, I gave birth again to another female pup. I nursed her for 6 weeks, but then I had to leave because Monk Seals don’t eat while nursing. I was very skinny, hungry, and running out of milk. My pup was fine. She probably put on about 200 pounds in 6 weeks, just on my milk. I am blind in my left eye. I have a shark bite scar on my left side and I have a, so far, benign lump on my lower back. I am otherwise healthy. Mahalo!”
When two volunteer members of the NOAA PIFSC (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center) arrived, they placed a fence around her, keeping bystanders at a distance of 150 feet away. They also gave us more information since they remained “On Watch” for the rest of the day. We learned Hawaiian Monk Seals are a rare breed, with DNA over 13 million years old. Being nocturnal, she had been awake all night eating food along the coral reef. Now it was her bedtime. She would sleep all day on the beach. She is currently pregnant and due sometime in March. Less than 1300 remain. There are fewer Hawaiian Monk Seals in the wild than there are giant pandas. Its Hawaiian name is “ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua” meaning “the dog that runs in rough waters”. Monk Seals got their name from being solitary, like monks, and having loose skin around their neck, which looks like a monk’s cowl. Once the pup is born, the mother seal will nurse for 5-6 weeks constantly, without eating, and then she turns it loose. She will lose hundreds of pounds during this time. Because the pup does not learn how to hunt, it often eats the bait on a fishing hook causing it to swallow the sharp object. Thus, several pups have needed to have a fishing hook surgically removed. What an extraordinary story! As we walked away, we realized this was truly an eye-opening experience we would long remember.