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Photographing a Hawaiian Monk Seal

December 6, 2010

Today I had an amazing experience. Right outside my motel on the beach was a Hawaiian monk seal!The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered animal species on Earth and this earless seal is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. Less than 1000 are surviving today.

This one is K13, an 11 year old pregnant female who is having a little rest on our beach here on the island of Kauai, the oldest of the Hawaiian islands. K13 is blind in one eye and has a few scars most probably from sharks or mating.

K13 rests peacefully on the beach. Image by Danielle Lancaster

The scientific name for these beautiful marine mammals is Monachus schauinslandi. The Hawaiian name is `ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua or “dog that runs in rough water”. Hawaiian monk seals are the most primitive living members of the Family Phocidae, having separated from other true seals perhaps 15 million years ago.

K13’s gestation period is 11 months and she will return to Niihau Island where she was born to give birth. She will have one pup and nurse that pup for about 6 weeks in that time she will not feed while the pup grows and grows on her nutritious milk. Pups average 14 to 18 kg at birth and 1 metre in length. They get much larger, weighing in between 68 – 91 kilos before they stop nursing. Life expectancies are 25 to 30 years.

K13 stirs for a scratch. Image by Danielle Lancaster

And of course the biggest reason they are so rare is us humans once again. If you get the chance to see one and photograph them don’t use flash. I found underexposing two thirds of a stop exposed best in camera. How privileged I am today, thank you K13 you have made my day!

By late afternoon there had been many visit K13 to photograph her.
Barriers erected by volunteers ensure K13 has a peaceful rest before she ventures back out to the sea.
Image by Danielle Lancaster

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