KILAUEA — A Hawaiian monk seal is currently welcoming visitors to the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, and people can get a lot closer to it than to the ones in the wild.
That’s because it’s a sculpture, created by Kauai artist Kathleen Ho as a way to inspire visitors and residents alike.
“We brought it here to educate people,” said park ranger Lori Walker. “The visitors really seem to enjoy it.”
About 50 students worked with Ho for three months in the spring to create the paper-mache seal on a chicken wire frame.
After the seal was finished in April, it went to the Lihue Airport, where it was on display for several months. It was moved to the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge’s contact station at the end of June.
“They like the cove over here,” Walker said of actual monk seals. “They go ashore where they want to go ashore, but it’s not rare to see them.”
Hawaiian monk seals use the islands’ beaches to nap and give birth, and are usually seen hauled out on the sand during the day, resting. Pupping occurs year-round, with an uptick in late March and early April.
Known as ilioholoikauaua, or “dog that runs through water,” monk seals are found mostly in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
They are listed as endangered but the population numbers have been increasing on the main Hawaiian Islands.
The seal sculpture is intended to raise awareness of the marine mammals.
“We’re using it to show visitors that they need not approach them, and make them aware of the monk seals,” Walker said.
The paper-mache monk seal will be at the refuge’s contact station at least through August, and possibly through September.
Visitor center hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.