State officials today say a woman will not be fined after an encounter with an endangered Hawaiian monk seal mother known as Rocky left her with injuries on Sunday morning in Waikiki.
The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources said the woman, 60, was visiting from California and was in “the wrong place at the wrong time,” but did nothing to provoke the incident. The woman was swimming in Waikiki waters near the roped-off section of the beach, where signs have been posted to warn beachgoers to keep a distance from the nursing monk seal and her pup from her.
At about 8:30 am on Sunday, a woman was injured while swimming near Hawaiian monk seal RH58, known to most as Rocky, and her pup, PO8, off Kaimana Beach. Numerous witnesses saw — and some recorded — the incident on video.
In a video provided to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the woman is seen swimming in Waikiki waters when she encounters Rocky with her pup. Rocky appears to confront, bark, and lunge at the woman, while bystanders watch her, gasping and yelling at her to get out of the water.
Eventually, a man paddling in an outrigger canoe came to her rescue and helped her to shore, where two bystanders carried her out of the water.
Honolulu Emergency Medical Services responded and said the woman suffered minor injuries, including superficial lacerations to her right cheekbone and left shoulder. She was treated and taken to a nearby hospital.
DLNR said she also suffered lacerations to her back during the incident, which occurred about 150 feet off Kaimana Beach.
In an interview with DLNR today, the woman and her husband, who are not named to protect their privacy, recounted what happened.
The husband said that Sunday morning, the seals were at the far end of the beach near the dilapidated Natatorium, where the pups swam into the former swimming pool.
Ocean Safety lifeguards were not in their tower yet, and 10 swimmers, including his wife, went into the water with no seals visible on the beach or in the ocean. He had been watching and videotaping from their nearby 12th-floor condominium.
His wife was swimming near the Natatorium, when both mom and pup appeared to be heading back to the beach, but then began swimming toward her when the incident occurred. He said she had her head in the water with a swimming cap on her, and could not hear people screaming at her to get out of the water.
The woman said in the DLNR news release that she is an elementary school teacher who cares a lot about the environment and wildlife, and that the encounter was a “terrifying experience.”
“We’ve been in Hawaii for three weeks and saw the pup at Kaimana immediately after it was born,” said the husband in a DLNR news release. “We’ve read all the safe viewing signs and abide by them. These seals swam up behind her and she was not aware of them. In addition to her [Rocky’s] state of agitation from being separated from her pup, I believe all of the commotion on the beach likely added to her frustration.”
Rocky gave birth to her 14th pup, PO8, on July 9 at Kaimana Beach — where she also birthed a pup in 2017.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have advised the public to remain at least 150 feet from Hawaiian monk seal mothers and pups on land and in the water.
“Mother seals can be very protective of their young and are more likely to exhibit territorial behavior with a pup,” NOAA Fisheries said in a news release. “Stay behind any fencing or signs and listen carefully to the instructions of officials on site. Monk seals can move especially fast in the water. Be sure to give them extra space and be alert when you’re in the water.”