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Monday, January 4, 2010

Monk Seal Interaction on Maui II: A Perception.

The original purpose of the post was to provide a forum for education, awareness and action. We will address a few things in response to some of the comments and feedback that have been received, then move on to provide further context in keeping with the purpose of the post.

We took a respectful and objective approach in the blog post. We did not name the company involved, nor did we make statements or judgments concerning the actions taken by the company or their guests. We did not intend to make any specific implications; we simply posted the video as a platform for education.
Here is some additional context, and several "take home messages" that we hope all who are reading this post will focus on:
Monk seals are critically endangered, and our actions can have a negative effect on their survival. The seal seen in the video is a known individual (R042), whose behavior is consistent with that of an animal which has become habituated to humans. Because people did things like feed, swim with, and pet her, she was encouraged to be "friendly" and started treating humans as she would another seal. This behavior was continually reinforced through ongoing interaction with humans. As the seal grew older and larger, what may have been considered "friendly" behavior on the seal's part was actually more reminiscent of rough play towards humans. In the video, the seal wasn't trying to "attack" the diver as the narrator states, but rather just wanted to play; this behavior is due to its earlier and unnatural interaction with humans. Because of this habituation and the increasing incidents of rough play, the seal ultimately and unfortunately had to be relocated.
A key point to make is that it is very important that people consistently follow the guidelines presented in the post below, ESPECIALLY during the first two years of a seal's life, which are highly-formative. In addition, feeding the seals at any time is particularly detrimental. With more and more pups being born around the Main Hawaiian Islands, we have a stewardship role to play, and should do our best to inform others throughout the community on HOW to take action to protect these animals. Facilitating that type of response is what we'd hoped to accomplish through this post on Hawaii EcoTube.
Hawaii Ecotube

This video, which has already received nearly 3,000 views on YouTube, has provided an excellent opportunity for education concerning best practices for interacting with this critically-endangered species of marine mammal.

Here is a link to the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources' page on the Hawaiian monk seal.

The following guidelines were presented during the Fall 2009 session of Ocean Awareness Training on Maui, and were designed to help keep Hawaiian monk seals "alive and wild."


• Maintain a distance of at least 150 ft from the seal

• Don’t feed the seal

• No eye contact with the seal

• Do not try to get the seal’s attention

• If the seal approaches you, ignore the seal and quickly move away on land or exit the water

In addition, the following is an excerpt concerning monk seals taken from the document "Voluntary Standard for Recreational Wildlife Interactions in West Hawaii Waters," developed by a multi-stakeholder community-based taskforce in West Hawaii in a consensus-based project facilitated by the Coral Reef Alliance:

4.8 Monk Seal interactions

4.8.1 Pets shall be kept on a leash at all times in the presence of seals. Seals can be aggressive and have been known to bite dogs.

4.8.2 When viewing a monk seal on the beach, observe from a respectable distance (the recommended distance is 150 feet away) and limit observation time to one-half hour.

4.8.3 Never attempt to swim with, touch or feed a Hawaiian monk seal. They are wild animals and have been known to be aggressive and bite humans.  If a monk seal approaches while you are in the water, exit the water as soon and as safely possible.

4.8.4 Marine Mammal Stranding/Entanglement Hotline: 1-888-256-9840 or Hawaiian Monk Seal Sightings Hotline (808) 220-7802.

Please review and follow these guidelines, and help the seals by spreading the word about proper protocol!


tshilson said...

Based on its behaviors, is there any idea of what motivated the seal? I see a white spot on the seal's back. Is that a sore? Thanks.

EcoTube Team said...

..."The big light patch on the back of the seal is the remnants of where the satellite tag had been. Any other markings are more likely light and shadows except for a few smaller dark scars mostly on the ventral side".

tshilson said...

Hmmm.... So it was not aggravated by a sore. Motivation is still a mystery.

Erik Stein said...

John Mitchell-
As the owner of Extended Horizons I would like to respond to the comments you have made on your blog.
You mentioned this video could be used as an educational tool. While you find a way to make a veiled suggestion that we did
something wrong on this dive, In actuality we conducted the dive and ourselves in very professional manner.
Once we got the divers in the water at the cavern and noticed the monk seal swimming around we did not ever engage it.
It left and returned trying to interact because it had been fed in the past by people (see comments on YouTube)
We began to ascend and the seal got aggressive. We aborted the dive early after getting all 12 divers out of the water - this takes at least 10 minutes to go down, and then 10 or 15 minutes to round everyone up and safely ascend. (We did not interact with it as implied for 20 minutes)
Then we notified the other charter boats in the area not to dive there, then we notified the monk seal watch people (Hannah Bernard, DLNR)
The videographer took some dramatic license here -(while windy- it was not gusting to 40 knots) You were not there that day. If you had been you would have seen a very responsible response to this Monk seal.
No one played with it- everyone ignored it. Then we aborted the dive.
Erik Stein

Rene Umberger said...

This dive operator and guide did nothing wrong and everything right. To suggest otherwise is just more hypocrisy.

Monk seals populations like all marine life populations that are declining in Hawaii are doing so because they've been over hunted for commercial and recreational purposes - not because of wildlife viewing activities.

Seals, turtles, dolphins, whales, whale sharks, fish etc... often approach divers underwater because they are curious and sense we mean them no harm. These interactions occur on their terms - 100%.

That seals desensitation to humans
began when it was affixed with all those tags.

Give me a break.

reefannie said...

The video was very interesting, and although it didn't show the entire dive, there was no diver reaching out to the seal making an attempt to pet it, and no constant eye contact that I could tell (although through masks it would be difficult). I feel the divers showed respect if not a little apprehension. Most folks know these seals are capable of considerable damage to a human. Thank you for the posting!