Living Fossil

Whenever I see a monk seal, I consider it a blessing.

Being one of the most rare marine mammals in the world, it’s estimated there are only about 1200 left on the planet. Only about 150 of them live among the main Hawaiian islands, and I’ve heard it said that about 25 of those exist around the island where I live.

There are multiple reasons why the Hawaiian monk seal’s population has declined. A major factor is that they have fewer quiet beaches on which to land. It’s critical that they have ample time to beach themselves in order to digest their food. Should they be scared off by curious onlookers, dogs, or other threats, their retreat back to the water could be deadly. Without having had enough time to rest, they can drown.

Popular beaches will cordon off areas for resting monk seals, keeping the public back far enough so that they can rest sufficiently.

But the Bohemian and I were at a remote cove the other day. Knowing it is a favorite among our seal friends, we scanned the rocks for signs of beached bodies. Their wet skin gets as black as the rock and they often blend in, unseen. Such was the case for us, initially, as we put our blanket down on the sand, thinking we were there alone.

A few snorts sounded, however, and we saw that we had a friend. The seal had just gotten to the beach as well, wet and slick, and a bit uncertain as to whether or not it was safe. We were a far distance from its landing spot, and the Bohemian and I just sat quietly as it settled itself into the sun. In a short time its eyes began to close and the warmth of the rays dried its fur into a soft, gray fluff.

The three of us spent hours there together. All pretty much doing the same thing – resting. At one point, I took up the Bohemian’s Canon with the high-powered lens, which gave me the privilege of seeing our friend up close from a respectful distance. I really wanted to be able to see the beauty of that fur!

By late afternoon, we packed up for home. As we walked toward the beach trail we said aloud to the sleepy seal, “Bye bye, seal friend.” And with that, the seal lazily lifted one flipper to the air in a gesture of a wave, then flopped it back down to the sand, never opening its eyes.

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