At around 5:30pm today, I was still in the garden,weeding and planting purple basil and Korean cabbage, when Steve who lives in a condo at Kaimana Beach, mentioned that a big part of the beach was roped off to protect a Hawaiian monk seal while it was resting in the sand.
"Is it still there?" I asked.
"It was there 15 minutes ago." Steve said.
That got me so excited, I hurried watering my new plants and rushed home to get Phil.
"Come on, Phil, quick, before it gets too dark." I yelled as I ran panting up the stairs. "Let's go see if the monk seal is still there." It would definitely be a first for us.
Fortunately it did not take Phil long to get ready and we set off across Kapiolani Park at a brisk pace. There were several games going on in the Park, lots of kids running around in colorful uniforms and lots of spectators with their cold drink containers lining the fields, and the setting sun slanting low across the expanse of grass, turning it into an otherworldly fierce green. Ordinarily I would linger and take in all the activities and strange beauty, but we were on a mission. No dawdling, we're making a beeline to the beach.
There it was. A real life Hawaiian monk seal, an endangered species, sleeping on the beach by Hau Tree Lanai restaurant. People taking pictures. Photographers with cameras on tripods. All of us watching the seal do nothing but sleep.
We barraged Karen, a volunteer with the monk seal response team, with questions and she kindly educated us about seals. There are about 30 monk seals that beach around Oahu daily. There are more around Kauai, and a total of approximately 1000 around the Hawaiian island chain. Life in the northwestern parts is much more dangerous for the seals than here. There's not as much food there, so the competition is brutal. Main competitors are sharks and ulua. A mother seal will nurse her pups for 40 days, after which she abandons them. But in the northwest, a mother may get so weak from the birth that, in order to survive, she has to leave her pups much earlier. The seals therefore turn out smaller and thinner.
The seal we're watching is named Rocky (she's a girl, though). After monitoring so many seals on a daily basis, the volunteers are quick to identify the seals they see. They give them names like Benny and Ewa Girl, Sam, Irma and Kermit. See: http://monksealmania.blogspot.com/
Rocky is 10-12 years old (a seal's lifespan is something like 30 years), and she frequents Diamond Head, Magic Island, and the harbor. She was sighted at Magic Island yesterday, so she did not travel far today. Seals hunt at night, so we were waiting for Rocky to get up and swim out looking for her dinner.
A wedding was taking place on the other side of the beach. I would have liked to have taking pictures of that too, but I had my camera trained on Rocky. I did not want to miss her getting up and plunging in the water.
This is a close up of Rocky that I found on the Monk Seal Mania website.
Ah, another beautiful sunset...Well, the sun went down. It got darker and darker. But Rocky didn't move a fin. No, that's not true. At one point, a wave washed over her face and she lifted her head. For a mini-moment, that is. Then she resumed her slumber.
The beach was clearing out, leaving only Karen (the volunteer), three serious photographers with monster lenses, and me with my dinky old camera that just pooches out a little nipple-sized lens when you turn it on. (Sorry, my sweet camera, you're still really good for daylight pictures, and that's what counts).
Phil had enough and wanted to leave. I thought, of course, that the moment we'd leave, Rocky would move, stretch out, and slip gracefully into the dark waters. And I would have missed the chance to witness it.
Phil won. We said our goodbyes and wished Rocky a Happy New Year, then trudged across the beach back to the steps, my sandal shoes scooping up sand. When we got to the top step, I did not even look back. This was enough. I had seen my first endangered Hawaiian monk seal and that would be an excellent ending for 2010. May all beings find peace.