We spent the past day at Nihoa. Even from afar, its jagged shape seems somewhat ominous. It blows my mind to think that people used to live on this island! There seems to be no source of fresh water, and the only source of food is the blue depths off shore, which are patrolled by territorial beasts which may attack at any time. After my experiences yesterday, I have to admit that I am afraid of them - which I had never been before. I had always thought that as long as you don't bug them, they won't bug you, and they're no real threat. But yesterday, I was scared, and I seriously worried that something was going to happen.
Of course, I'm talking about the Monk Seals.
In the main Hawaiian islands, monk seals are fairly scarce. You can find them bathing on certain beaches, but usually only one or two, and they're not always there. Not so in the northwest. When we pulled up to our dive site off the south shore, Nihoa's only beach was littered with them. There were easily more than ten visible on the stretch, and as we learned quickly, even more in the water.
As soon as we got underwater, three seals approached us. Oh how cool, I thought! Monk seals! Quickly distracted from the work I was supposed to be doing, I watched them. They circled us, but at a good distance, maybe 20 feet away. Then something happened that changed my mood. Two began to wrestle, nipping and biting at each other, until one swam off. The victor looked at me, and I noticed a scar on his left cheek. It wasn't cold, but I shuddered.
Then the victor - who I have since nicknamed Scarface - started getting closer. He just kept circling, inching his way in for a better look. My dive buddies started to notice the strange behavior, and stopped working. The three of us watched as the seal went from 20 feet away to five. Every time someone looked away he got closer to that person, looking at their fins, their regulator, their tanks. I think he was just curious, but I didn't want to find out for sure. We were face to face for awhile while he circled me, and I swear I could read the interest in his eyes. He wasn't particularly aggressive, but he was getting a lot too close for comfort. At one point he went only a couple feet from my dive buddy's fins, and I had to quickly place a pole between his face and my buddies fins, which thankfully deterred whatever he had thought to do with them.
Scarface, photo by Jackie Troller
I have seen sharks in the water. We swam with a couple yesterday alone. But I have never been so scared as with this seal. He was far more curious than most, and did not seem to want to leave without finding out what we were by whatever means necessary. And after his little spat with the other seal, I did not want to find out what those means were. After all, when you have no hands, you can't just feel something - to get a sense of texture, you have to bite.
The odds of a monk seal attacking are probably pretty slim. But if one did, you'd be screwed. They're large, and have far better control of themselves in the water than you do. There are stories, especially from the California coast, of seals or sea lions ripping off gear, biting through hoses, etc, so it's not unheard of.
Thankfully, this one eventually gave up (or decided we weren't actually that interesting) and swam off. Let me tell you - after this encounter, I'm going to be much more wary of seals in the water in the future. I'm on to you, seals - you put up this cute facade, but you're not as innocent as you seem.
Oh, and I guess this checks one animal off my Endangered Species List. This definitely counts as seeing them in the wild and in the ocean!
>Even from afar, it's jagged shape
I expect a science writer to have a good grasp of English grammar. I know those apostrophes are rascals, but please get them under control...
These is one of the great information which you can share with us. There are stories, especially from the California coast, of seals or sea lions ripping off gear, biting through hoses, etc, so it's not unheard.