Hawaiian Monk Seal

One of the joys of being in Hawaii is walking its tropical beaches. Maui, in particular, is special because at this time of year the humpback whales are in town, blowing, breeching, spy-hopping and doing all the things that bring them here every year (except eating). You can walk along the shore and watch them romping just a few hundred yards from you.

But once in a while you get to see something even more special. That happened to my wife and I last evening, as we walked one stretch of beach. We got to an open stretch of sand and there, right before us, was a Hawaiian Monk Seal, napping.

The area was roped off by a volunteer who is part of a conservation movement. The Monk Seal is critically endangered, primarily due to encroachment by people. There are fewer than 1100 of these magnificent mammals left in the entire world and all live in and around the Hawaiian islands. A major effort is underway to resuscitate the species, but so far the outlook is grim. Their genetic variation has narrowed, competition for fewer and fewer females results causes aggression that leads to injury, infection and death. Entrapment in fishing nets takes more lives. Yet the wonderful volunteers and hard-working biologists have put together a comprehensive plan to bring them back from near extinction. Let’s hope they succeed.

You might vacation in Hawaii for years and never spot one, so our sighting was rare indeed. This female was about eight-feet long and had to weigh 400 pounds. I grabbed this shot with my iPhone 5s and processed it in Snapseed.

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