My wife and I are volunteers with the Kauai Monk Seal Conservation Hui, although I write as an individual volunteer without the knowledge or help of NOAA or the state DLNR.
In the course of our training, we learned that in 1994, 21 overly aggressive male monk seals were taken from Laysan Island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and spread throughout the main islands, including Kauai.
Since 1994, monk seals have become a common sight. This is why many locals say seals weren’t here before then.
I grew up here in the 1940s and ‘50s and, like most of my friends, I never saw or heard of monk seals. Some say since they were brought here, they don’t belong here. Especially fishermen, as seals sometimes take catch from hooks, stringers and nets. But if only males were brought here, then there must have been females already here, in order for them to reproduce.
So I started to ask other old-timers about when they first saw seals on Kauai, before 1994.
Haena native Matt Mahuiki recalls the birth of a monk seal on the North Shore in the early ‘90s. Matt says his whole family used to watch as the seal, named “Hina,” would go to play in the water and come back up on the beach to rest. In 1988 or 1989, a monk seal was killed at Anahola. Don Heacock, longtime DLNR regional biologist, says that seal was an adult female.
Edward Moritsugu of Kilauea says his father used to go fishing every day after work. He first saw a seal in the 1960s at Rock Quarry (Kahili Beach).
Kapahi resident Harry Kamoku used to work for Kilauea Sugar Plantation and had access, through the cane fields, to Larsen’s Beach. He first saw a seal there in the ‘60s.
Former police chief Brian Fujiuchi was a teenager when he went diving off of Smith’s Beach in Anahola and saw his first seal there, also in the ‘60s.
John Pia of Anahola tells how, in his younger days, he used go fishing along the Napali Coast with Louis Rego, in Rego’s boat. In the late 1950s, John saw a seal twice at Pohakuau and once at Honopu. Doug Cheeseman saw his first monk seal in either 1954 or 1955 when he was a student at Kapaa High School.
Jimmy Fujita was born in 1942 and grew up in the McBryde Plantation Camp at Eleele. In the late 1940s, when he was about 6 years old, he went fishing with his dad at Port Allen Pier. He saw a shiny sleek hump break the surface of the water. His dad said it was probably a turtle. Jimmy knew what a turtle looked like but didn’t want to argue with his dad. He wasn’t aware of monk seals then but when he learned of their existence he realized that the “shiny sleek hump” he saw more than once was a seal.
Leo Ohai is now in his mid-90s. Last I heard he was living on the Mainland. In his working days, Leo Ohai owned one of the largest, if not the largest, commercial fishing operation in all the islands. He said the first seal he saw on Kauai was in 1940 or 1941, at Koloa Lighthouse.
So there were monk seals on Kauai “back in da days,” but they were so few as to be practically invisible. Some of them had to be female. And, except for Leo Ohai, those who did see them then are no longer here. This may explain why most kupuna living now say monk seals were never here before. But they were.
Monk seals are one of God’s creations, one of God’s children, as much as turtles, dolphins, sharks, whales and humans. We can share the planet. What do you think?
Lloyd Miyashiro is a lifelong island resident and a retired Kapaa High School teacher.