Monks Sunbathe On Maui Beaches

My kayaking and snorkeling buddy George sent me some pictures of a Hawaiian Monk Seal taking a nap on the beach in front of George's condo in Kihei, Maui.

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Hawaiian Monk Seals are indigenous to the Islands and are "true" seals, meaning they use their rear flippers for propulsion, steer with their front flippers, and have no external ears. Eared seals, on the other hand, in addition to having external ears, swim with their front flippers and steer with their rear ones. Also, eared seals can put their rear flippers underneath their body to act as feet, which gives them more mobility on land. True seals cannot do this and have to lurch along on their belly. Seals are very closely related to bears and dogs, but left land for the sea about 2 million years ago.

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Hawaiian Archipelago - click to enlarge

When the Polynesians arrived, the seals were distributed throughout the Hawaiian archipelago. They were hunted by the Hawaiians and so gradually moved to the Leeward isles which were uninhabited by humans. After European contact, hunters came to kill them for oil and pelts and like many sea mammals, they were brought to the edge of extinction.

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"Did someone mention extinction? - I think I'll hide."

Their numbers have declined to about 1200 animals from three times that number fifty years ago, despite being protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1976. The problem? Debris in the water - drift nets, lines, rope, etc. in which they can become tangled and drown, or various plastics, which they may try to swallow and choke to death or can end up blocking their stomach causing them to starve. These are problems shared by green sea turtles and many birds.

Last year, President Bush signed an executive order declaring the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a U.S. National Monument, creating the largest protected marine area in the world and the largest single conservation area in the history of the United States. (I can't help but point out that there is no oil in the area and this was probably done as a sop to the public in order to "balance" his other actions with regard to environmental issues.) Whatever the reasons, it's a good thing. Also, it is one thing to create a National Monument or park, but another thing to properly fund it. It is important to make sure Congress provides enough funding to the National Park Service.

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"I wasn't really hiding. I was just putting some sunscreen (sand) on my neck."

In recent years, Hawaiian Monks have been returning to the main islands and can even be seen at times on the beach at Waikiki. The first one I saw was on Poipu Beach on the south shore of the Island of Kauai. I played trombone in a full orchestra which was hired by a major US corporation to play for their awards banquet. We were flown to Kauai and put up in the Sheraton Hotel at Poipu Beach. Nice work if you can get it. ;^)

Anyway, the morning after the performance, some of us stayed a while and enjoyed snorkeling with the green sea turtles (also endangered) and were visited by two monk seals that decided to join us on the beach. Since they are protected, if you ever see one, you should not approach it and try to stay at least 100 feet away - they need the rest. When Hawaii State authorities learn of one on the beach, they rope off the area like a crime scene until the seal leaves. By the way, if you encounter one in the water, say while SCUBA diving, don't try to play with it. They may be cute, but they are wild animals and can be aggressive and been known to bite humans.

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"Ah, life is good - when you're protected."

Let us hope that with continued efforts to protect and clean up the leeward islands these rare seals can be saved. Thanks for the great pics, George.

"White Sandy Beach of Hawaii" Performed by Iz


Martin J Frid said...

Hehe, I suppose they are called monks because they lay around on their fat bellies all day long, doing nothing. Good to hear that they are being protected.

And I loved the surprise music!

The Moody Minstrel said...

Why is it so many people have trouble understanding that there is a difference between a pet and a wild animal...and that wild animals tend to have survival instincts that can make them dangerous?

Hey! Let's play with the cute sea otter!



Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Friar Tuck! Lovely photos and story. We get seals sometimes on the beaches of the Bellarine Peninsular. Nice to hear that George Bush did one thing right. As you say, not a location for oil.

QUASAR9 said...

"Did someone mention extinction? - I think I'll hide."

Lol very ostrich like
No good burying your head in the sand my friend - we can still see yah!

Pandabonium said...

Martin - haha. close. They are called monks because the big ones have a fold of skin around the neck that can look like a monk's hood.

Glad you like the music. Iz - Israel Kamakawiwo`ole - added a lot to Hawaiian music in his short 38 year life. He was one of only about 1500 pure blooded Hawaiians in the world.

Moody - when I was writing that I thought "do I really need to say this?" Then thought of all the stories in the news about people being stupid around wild animals.
Like the Goya Foods president Francisco Unanue who hired someone to bring a COUGAR to his 7 year old's birthday party last November with predictable horrible results.
Alot of people really are disconnected from nature - and reality - it appears.

Wendy - Friar Tuck, yeah. As a kid I used to sail out to the 1 mile marker off the coast of Santa Barbara , CA and see seals napping on top of the bouy - even though it had a loud bell.

quasar9 - the famous Hawaiian Monk Ostriches....

Lrong said...

Nice song you have there...

agus said...

Great pictures. The head in the sand reminds me of the ostrich. And the last picture is just cute and funny. Always ready to roll.

Oh, love the apt song.

Pandabonium said...

Lrong - thanks. I felt the lyrics fit the post. I could do with a nice nap on the beach myself. ;)

Agus - oh my, I've neglected visiting your blog of late. Happy Lunar New Year (belated). glad you enjoyed the song by bruddah Iz.

ladybug said...

This is great! (I know I keep saying that, I need to come up w/something else...). Anyhoo, I'm very glad to hear there is now a large marine Sanctuary in Hawaii, another reason to plan a visit!

We've got lots of seals and sea lions in the Pacific NW, but I think only the seals are protected. Fishermen like neither (but especialy don't like Sea Lions), as they eat more than their weight in fish when the salmon are running.

They like to cruise up the Columbia following the trawlers, gill netters, etc., but they get stopped by dam at Bonneville.

bonnie said...



TQ and I are going to visit my folks in May. Can't wait can't wait can't wait.

He's never been. We've only got 6 days. NOT ENOUGH!

Pandabonium said...

ladybug - you've got a couple types of sea lions in Oregon, Californian and Stellar. The latter is endangered. You have harbor seals too.

For the fisherman its their living, for the sea lions, their lives. A need for careful balance there.

bonnie - that's terrific. I'll see if I find some more Hawaiian things to tease you with before then. :)

Old Broad said...

See, I learned something new today. I did not know that about the Hawaiian Monks. Fascinating.
Oh, and "White Sandy Beaches of Hawaii" is just magical. Gorgeous, clear voice. A pleasure to listen to.

Reena said...

That last picture is priceless! A seals life!:)

Happysurfer said...

That monk is so cute in the last picture. Thanks too for the lesson on the two types of seals.

YD said...

The monk is huuuuge. :-P

It looked really cute! Despite knowing its self-protection kungfu and its "protected" status, I can't help imagine how nice it would be to stroke its big belly! (No such opportunities in reality it seems... sob)

I only realized the difference of the mechanics of movements of two kinds of seals today. Thanks for that valuable info!

Pandabonium said...

Old Broad - glad you like the music. The Hawaiian islands are the most isolated on earth, so they have some very rare species of plants and animals.

Reena - yeah, so cute. zzzzz....

Happy - kind of interesting how the seals evolved different ways.

YD - look but don't touch. Now you know that if you and Happy ever want to start a circus act using seals, you need to use "eared seals". ;^)

nzm said...

Heh - this reminds me of an elephant seal that came ashore at the fishing harbour in Gisborne, New Zealand.

Tagged Humphrey by the locals, he hung around for a few weeks and created havoc.

He destroyed a 4WD truck by using his considerable bulk to smash onto the bonnet a few times. It was written off with bad panel and chassis damage.

He was one bad-tempered elephant seal!

Pandabonium said...

NZM - never, ever, argue over a parking space with an elephant seal. Or an elephant for that matter.

Robin said...

Wonder why they are called monk seal... and not nun seal.

Pandabonium said...

Robin - they don't call them nun seals because they're not in the "habit" of doing so. ;^)