Monk seal’s attack prompts calls for action to prevent more serious encounters

The conflict between a swimmer and mother monk seal over the weekend is forcing a discussion...
The conflict between a swimmer and mother monk seal over the weekend is forcing a discussion about what to do when an endangered seal picks a very busy place to give birth.(Hawaii News Now)
Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 3:51 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 26, 2022 at 5:19 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The highly-publicized encounter between a swimmer and a Hawaiian monk seal mom is triggering a robust discussion about what to do when an endangered seal picks a busy place to give birth.

Longtime marine experts say something needs to change before a more serious incident occurs.

“If there’s an oil spill or a shark attack, some way they find a way to close the beach and so why we’re still wrestling with that question is kind of beyond me,” said David Schofield, who spent 16 years as NOAA’s Animal Stranding Coordinator. “Thank God that woman was not killed.”

Schofield knows shutting down one of the state’s most visited beaches is not a popular idea.

But he said it’s necessary, especially after two pups were recently born at Kaimana Beach.

While he applauds the work of NOAA, the Hawaii Marine Animal Response, and city Ocean Safety, he says they aren’t enforcement authorities and complete closures are an effective solution to reduce potential interactions.

“You have people in Waikiki walking down from the right, you have the hotel, you have the pup going in and out of the Natatorium, which is another recipe for disaster,” Schofield said.

“The whole using signs and ropes as guidance barriers just does not work in this area.”

Kauai-based marine biologist and underwater filmmaker Terry Lilley says in his thousands of hours of documenting sea life, he’s never had an aggressive encounter with sharks, but monk seals are a different story.

“Several times bit my dive gear, bit my fins and the one time on that footage, bit the camera,” Lilley said.

“This is unprovoked. I didn’t go out looking to film monk seals. I was filming sharks at the time when this thing came in and circled around me and bit the camera.”

Lilley also says beach closures would be an effective solution.

But if that’s not possible, he proposes finding them a safer place.

“There are and there has been successful relocation programs for monk seals,” Lilley said. “Where you can catch them, you can move them out of the area in a place that’s way better and safer for the monk seal, especially the baby, and way safer for the tourists and other folks who are out in the water swimming or surfing.”

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