KAHULUI, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A rare glimpse of a playful monk seal off Maui serves as a warning for anyone who is tempted to get too close to the animals.
It was a treat for the tourists – two beautiful animals were right next to their boat. But it's no treat for the turtle, who is an unfortunate victim of an especially curious monk seal.
Witnesses say the juvenile female seal toyed with the turtle for more than an hour last week off Maui's Oluwalu. The seal nibbled it, hugged it and even tossed the turtle into the air. Most of the encounter was caught on camera.
"Seals are pretty smart and whether she's just interacting with that seal or actually trying to eat it. It's an indication that they are large and they are intelligent and they are curious," said Dr. Rachel Sprague, Assistant Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Coordinator. "That makes particularly young seals susceptible to becoming curious people."
Experts are worried because history shows, a friendly seal can sometimes be a dangerous seal.
A few years ago, an abandoned pup known as KP2, was rehabilitated by scientists but grew so fond of people that it later became a star attraction on Molokai. The seal played with children and dogs, and grabbed swimmers with its fins.
Concerned it might hurt someone, NOAA sent KP2 to a research center in California. The seal has since been renamed Ho'ailona and now lives at the Waikiki Aquarium.
NOAA wants the new seal off Maui to stay wild, which means people should stay away.
"If they're getting interaction back, it can encourage the seal to do that more," said Sprague. "The thing we don't want is for her to get so comfortable and actually seeking out people to interact with."