Nursing Monk Seal Attacks 'Terrified' Woman Who Ignored Beach Warnings

A swimmer has been injured by a monk seal in Hawaii after approaching the animal and her newborn pup, despite warnings.

A video recorded on July 24 off Kaimana Beach, near Honolulu, shows the seal attacking the swimming woman in an attempt to drive her away. The mother seal, nicknamed Rocky by locals, was reportedly barking and trying to find her two-week-old pup, leading other swimmers to get out of the water.

One woman remained, however, and only swam back to shore when other swimmers shouted at her to get out of the water, as Rocky and the pup were returning to the area of the beach that they had been resting on. As she paddled in, the pup got close to her, leading Rocky's maternal protective instincts to kick in, and she attacked the woman.

Native only to the Hawaiian archipelago, Hawaiian monk seals are "one of the most endangered seal species in the world," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In the 1960s, population levels started to plummet and just 1,600 individuals now remain. It is thought that low juvenile survival, driven by limited prey availability, was behind the decline. Conservation efforts are now helping to increase numbers.

hawaiian monk seal
A woman was attacked by a nursing female monk seal near Honolulu, Hawaii after swimming too close to the mom and her pup. The above stock image shows a Hawaiian monk seal on a beach in Kauai, Hawaii. iStock / Getty Images Plus

In the video, onlookers can be heard shouting "get out, get out" as Rocky approaches the woman. A boat goes to assist her to shore before two men pick her up and carry her to safety.

Markus Faigle, from Honolulu, told Hawaii News Now: "You hear her screams, this poor woman was terrified."

Curt Otsuka, from Moanalua, also witnessed the attack. He told the outlet: "If it wasn't for the kayak guy paddling over to save her she would have got like chomped."

The woman was wounded and was "transported by City & County EMS for further assistance", according to a Facebook post by Hawaii Marine Animal Response (HMAR).

Larry Akiyama, a local and beach regular, told local news station KHON2 that he has noticed people crossing the fenced area erected to protect Rocky and her pup.

"They are not listening, they just go right through them, we tell them not to go there and they still go right through them," he said.

Hawaiian monk seals can give birth to only one pup a year, which, like humans, takes nine months to gestate. The mothers will nurse their pups for around six weeks, during which they will not eat or leave the pup at all. After she is finished nursing, the mother will eventually leave the pup to its own devices and return to the ocean to forage.

Hawaiian monk seals are federally and state protected, with violations possibly leading to a maximum fine of $50,000.

The main natural threats facing this dwindling species include food competition with other species, pup predation by sharks, and aggression from male seals towards females and pups. Many significant factors acting against the seals also include human-caused dangers, however.

According to NOAA, Hawaiian monk seals have one of the highest documented entanglement rates of any seal species, with pups being most often entangled in discarded fishing gear and other ocean plastic waste. Sea level rise due to climate change has also caused the loss of several low-lying beaches that were previously important pupping sites, leading the seals to be forced to nurse on busy beaches like Kaimana.

This has subsequently led to increased human-seal interactions, another factor causing their population decline, with intentional feeding, dog attacks, boat or vehicle strikes, and other disturbances being a danger to both the seals and the humans doing the disturbing, as seen in this recent case.

HMAR has warned that swimmers should leave the water when the mother monk seal and her pup are in the area, and keep at least 150 feet away from them, as nursing mothers can be very protective, injuring swimmers.

"We continue to warn people not to engage in in-water activities when a monk seal mother with a pup is in the area and to stay at least 150 feet from mother seals with pups," HMAR said in its Facebook post. "Continued vigilance is advised for several more weeks until the mother monk seal weans her pup."