Hawaiian Wildlife: Monk Seal

The Hawaiian Monk Seal (Monachus schauinslandi) is one of two mammals native to the islands.  They are endangered and seeing them sunning on a beach or resting along a flat stretch of rocky shoreline, is special.  Around Kaua’i, there are an estimated 35 resident seals with some nomadic visitors from smaller islets further northwest along the Hawaiian chain (the animal’s total population is estimated to be around 1100).  The Hawaiians call the seals ʻIlio-holo-i-ka-uaua which means “dog that runs in rough water”.  Ke’e Beach is a frequent destination for a lone seal to visit and I just missed seeing a seal there on three separate visits.  While photographing Red-footed boobies courting at the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on the island’s northeast tip, I noticed a dark shape sliding across the rocks far below the viewing point on was photographing from.

It took a minute for me to put on as much lens as I had brought with me, a 300mm and a 1.4 extender for a total telephoto reach of 420mm, which turned the spot into a recognizable seal.  I would have liked more reach but the airlines don’t make travelling with large lenses an easy proposition.  Nevertheless I could watch the seal well through the lens and the upside was certainly that no one was disturbing the animal from that distance.

I wasn’t expecting to see a seal after my near misses so it was a treat to see one near the end of my trip.

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