A woman was injured while swimming in Hawaii after she was attacked by an endangered Hawaiian monk seal that officials say was protecting her newborn pup.
The incident happened Sunday morning at Kaimana Beach in Waikiki on the island of O’ahu. The woman, who was not identified, appeared to swim about 20 feet into the water when the monk seal appeared.
The seal charges to the woman on multiple occasions as onlookers repeatedly yelled “get out.” It wasn’t until a kayaker came by and rescued the woman, as two onlookers carried her on the beach to receive medical care.
“If it wasn’t for the kayak guy paddling over to save her she would have got like chomped,” witness Curt Otsuka told Hawaii News Now.
Hawaii Marine Animal Response said in a statement a Hawaiian monk seal had given birth to a pup around two weeks ago in the area, and officials said they have been monitoring the two animal’s activity since.
They added the woman had been warned before that seal moms are “protective, can be dangerous, and have inflicted serious wounds on nearby swimmers.” There are also signs and barriers on the beach warning of potential interactions.
“We continue to warn people not to engage in in-water activities when a monk seal mother with a pup are in the area and to stay at least 150 feet from mother seals with pups,” Hawaii Marine Animal Response said. “Continued vigilance is advised for several more weeks until the mother monk seal weans her pup.”
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The Hawaiian monk seal is “one of the most endangered seal species in the world,” according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries. Endemic to the Hawaiian islands and, on rare occasions, Johnston Atoll – a remote Pacific island nearly 1,000 miles southwest of Hawaii – the population is estimated to be around 1,570 seals, and it only recently began to increase after six decades of decline.
The mother seal is actually a famous one, known as Rocky. She gained fame in 2017 after giving birth on a busy beach in Waikiki. Now 22 years old, she has given birth to 14 pups, NOAA Fisheries says.
Officials said the woman was taken to a local hospital.
Rocky and her pup are expected to be in the area for approximately five to seven weeks. Officials said their behavior “seems normal” after the incident.
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