Hawai'i State News

Hawaiian monk seal in Kona waters relocated after aggressive behavior toward oceangoers

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A 5-year-old male Hawaiian monk seal off Hawai‘i Island is being relocated after reports of the animal approaching divers and snorkelers nipping their fins and even biting a diver on the head.

Hawaiian monk seal RL72 on Hawaiʻi Island. Credit: © The Marine Mammal Center

According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, RL72 is en route with field staff to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to Kamole, also known as Laysan Island, where he’ll join the current estimated population of more than 200 Hawaiian monk seals.

The animal’s move was prompted by a pattern of escalating underwater interactions in the Makako Bay area in December 2023. Before moving the seal, NOAA watched the animal and conducted a risk assessment to determine whether its relocation would be best for its long-term welfare and public safety.

NOAA worked with partners to provide guidance on what to do if RL72 approached people underwater, stressing backing away from the seal, not engaging him from any distance and exiting the water if RL72 was present.

“We hoped that RL72 would lose interest in people and instead interact with other seals,” officials stated.


Unfortunately, RL72’s interactive behavior with ocean users increased and escalated. He continued to follow ocean users during the day and at night, biting gear, nipping at arms, and attempting to mount scuba divers.

“We reviewed multiple videos of divers ignoring and swimming away from RL72 when the seal approached, but RL72 pursued them, biting at dive gear and attempting to mount them,” NOAA officials stated. “In one instance, RL72 mounted and held onto a diver during a daytime dive. In another instance, RL72 bit a snorkeler on the back, deep enough to penetrate their wetsuit and cause a puncture injury.”

NOAA worked with the staff at the Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola hospital in Kailua-Kona to capture the seal on June 4.

RL72 joins a previously scheduled departing vessel to make a two-day journey to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.


“We believe that in this remote location – away from people and surrounded by many more monk seals than at Hawaiʻi Island – RL72 has the greatest chance at returning to normal wild seal behaviors,” NOAA officials stated.

According to NOAA, when monk seals develop naturally in the wild, they do not typically engage with humans. Their behavior can change, though, if people provide positive reinforcement, such as food or social interaction—like approaching or following seals.

Officials say it’s important for oceangoers to keep their distance and not interact with the animals at any stage in their lives.

“Seals are innately curious—especially when young,” officials stated. “Once a seal has established a behavior pattern of interacting with humans, it can be extremely hard — and potentially impossible — to change the seal’s behavior. And when it comes to adult seals, which weigh 400–600 pounds, even innocent behaviors can pose very serious dangers.”


To help keep these endangered species wild, NOAA advises staying at least 50 feet away from the animal at all times (150 feet from moms with pups). Move away if a seal approaches you and exit the water if a seal pursues you.

Don’t feed the seals.

To report a seal sighting or if an animal appears to be in distress, call the NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline at 888-256-9840.

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