Nursing mother monk seal protecting her pup attacks swimmer off Hawaii

A mama monk seal safeguarding her 2-week-old pup attacked a swimmer off a Hawaii beach over the weekend, prompting new warnings against frolicking too close to wildlife.

The 60-year-old woman was said to be badly shaken after bystanders helped pull her from the water, but authorities said she had not provoked the attack.

The seal, a 22-year-old known locally as Rocky, had earlier been heard frantically barking for her pup after losing sight of it, according to witnesses. After finding the baby seal, the mother lashed out at the nearest swimmer, which happened to be the unidentified woman. Wearing a swim cap, the woman could not hear the warnings yelled from the shore as the seal bore down on her, her husband later told the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“My wife had a swim cap on, and her head was in the water when both seals appeared,” her husband said of the attack off Kaimana Beach, on the Island of Oahu. “She could not hear 50 or so people on the beach screaming for swimmers to get out of the water. She then stands up and hears the people screaming and waving at her.”

A jarring video captured by an onlooker showed the seal pulling the woman underwater briefly, then the two wrestling in the swells. A kayaker paddled over and got between them, rescuing her, while two swimmers pulled the woman from the water and carried her to emergency personnel.

“You hear her screams, this poor woman was terrified,” witness Markus Faigle of Honolulu, who filmed the encounter, told Hawaii News Now. “And she was just defending her child and this poor swimmer, my heart goes out to her, she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. But that couldn’t be in a worse place. And I filmed it because I had this really bad feeling.”

The swimmer’s husband said she was one of 10 people who went into the water “with no seals visible on the beach or in the ocean,” the DLNR said. He was watching and videotaping from their condominium, on the 12th floor overlooking the beach. He raced downstairs upon seeing the attack, thinking his wife would be dead before he got there.

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“If it wasn’t for the kayak guy paddling over to save her, she would have got like chomped,” another witness, Curt Otsuka, told Hawaii News Now.

As it was she received lacerations to her face, back, and an arm in the 8:30 a.m. Sunday incident, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. said. The agency also said the swimmer “did nothing to provoke the incident and was not even aware the seals were in the water.”

The California elementary school teacher and her husband have been in Hawaii for three weeks and had steered clear of the newborn seal and its mother.

“We’ve read all the safe viewing signs and abide by them,” he told the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.. “These seals swam up behind her, and she was not aware of them.”

Nonetheless, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries division called it a “stark reminder” to give nursing monk seals a wide berth and stay at least 150 feet away. The species is considered endangered, NOAA says. Mother seals can be as vicious as bears on land in protecting their young.

“We wish the swimmer a speedy recovery, and we also urge people to follow guidance from safety and wildlife officials,” NOAA said in a statement. “The best thing you can do when it comes to mother seal interactions is to avoid them.”

Wildlife officials estimated the nursing mother and baby will be in the area for another month.

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