Here’s a brief history of monk seals on Kauai

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?

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Lloyd Miyashiro is a lifelong island resident and a retired Kapaa High School teacher.

9 Comments
  1. Just Saying April 8, 2018 2:26 pm Reply

    There’s another reason you “old timers” didn’t notice the seals swimming nearby. Your eyes were on the old car or bags of whatever trash wouldn’t burn that you were shoving off the cliff and into the sea! You can see this today if you travel throughout the world; like the village 20 miles North of Alexandria, Egypt where everyone lives either side of a concrete sided “river.” You merely walk across the street and heave your trash in. This is life in a rural area among the “unrefined!”
    I f you wish to learn the History of the Monk Seal, please visit an academic source and forget you ever saw this one!


  2. kauaidog April 9, 2018 12:29 pm Reply

    Another reason people would be less likely to see a seal is that there were less eyes to see them? I would guess most people, before the end of the sugar plantations, were working people and not just at some secluded beach vacationing.


  3. andy April 9, 2018 2:20 pm Reply

    Mahalo nui to Mr. Miyashiro for a thoughtful and “reality-based” comment on this bizarre on-going debate about Hawaiian monk seals. As a lifelong surfer/bodysurfer/freediver I am so happy to share the ocean with all of the critters who truly belong there including the Hawaiian seals- I wish there were more of them! As far as the comment posted by “justsaying”, I read it a couple of times and have no idea what it’s about! One thing that’s amazing to me is that I’ve had a couple of fishermen friends of mine speak about how the seals were stealing their fish, and I could only respond with some basic math: We have well over a million people in Hawaii, most of whom eat fish, as well as thousands of visitors on any given day who also eat lots of fish. Meanwhile we’ve got what, maybe one thousand or so monk seals? And most of them live in the northwest part of the Hawaiian Archipelago. So, us voracious humans outnumber the seals by way more than 1000-to-one, and we’re worried about them eating all the fish? What a joke!


    1. Just Saying April 10, 2018 2:01 pm Reply

      No idea? I guess you think Glass Beach was a naturally occurring phenomenon!


  4. avcwbcoach April 9, 2018 11:13 pm Reply

    First, more fish is thrown out – wasted – by “retail” sales of fish, than Monk Seals could ever catch. Next, as always seems to get lost, they have critter cammed many seals and the videos, from the 1990’s, shows the seals dive, sometimes as deep as 3000 feet, to forage. Are there a few stinker creatures who steal catches, yes, just like human kine. Finally, without disclosing the person’s name, they fear retaliation, but I respect this Kapuna VERY much, on Maui there are petroglyphs that date back way beyond any examples of your stories. There are also conspiracy theories like the seals were brought here so the Government could create plush toys for profit. If Human’s would just support these and all wild creatures (no boat strikes, plastic over consumned, bludgeoning), we would all get along. They are very joyful if you have the open heart to watch them, and better, support them.


  5. harryoyama2 April 10, 2018 3:56 am Reply

    Is is not a fact that 7 out of 9 monks seals died of Toxiplasma, a disease in cat feces? Yet this newspaper fail to mention how serious feral and domestic cats are, not just native birds, but sea life as well when rains carry it towards the ocean.


    1. Just Saying April 10, 2018 2:07 pm Reply

      Toxiplasma was found in 5 dead Hawaiian Monk Seals between 2004 and 2013. Source: NOAA @:
      https://abcbirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/2013.10-NOAA-Hawaiian-monk-seals-and-toxo.pdf

      Please stop being ridiculous!


  6. andy April 10, 2018 9:16 pm Reply

    Sorry, I must have missed something here…what does Glass Beach have to do with anything (especially Monk Seals)?


    1. Just Saying April 11, 2018 1:51 pm Reply

      Glass Beach is the result of Old Timers disposing of cars by pushing them off the cliffs. The motors are still there among the rocks. They used the ocean as a garbage disposal! People doing that won’t be noticing marine life! I wouldn’t be surprised if you still don’t get the point. The anecdotes of the unrefined can be considered an “oral history” by some but it’s actually just a big wad of baloney!


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