The Hawaiian monk seal is protected by state and federal laws and according to state officials is the most critically endangered mammal in the United States right now.
“The message is one of mutual respect,” Department of Land and Natural Resources director William Aila said in a PSA announcement.
In April, the state Department and Land and Natural Resources launched a public service announcement campaign aimed at educating visitors and residents about respecting Native Hawaiian marine life.
“Hey it’s looking over here, I gotta get another one,” an onlooker taking pictures of the monk seal said.
But it’s clear the message has not been received by all.
On Sunday Kauai resident Mark Stein was enjoying at a day at Ke’e beach on the island’s north shore with his brother and his brother’s girlfriend – when a monk seal swam ashore.
“All of a sudden he pointed look there’s a monk seal and his girlfriend kind of turned the camera and started snapping pictures,” Stein said.
Stein says what happened next caught everyone off guard.
“All of sudden it was interesting to see this other visitor walk up to put his hand out like to pet it and it growled at the person who jumped back,” Stein said.
The photo was taken the moment it happened.
“I thought that one picture was priceless that she was able to catch it with the monk seal kind of saying leave me alone. You weren’t expecting this monk seal that looks awfully friendly to kind of growl,” Stein said.
The visitor was startled but not injured. Stein says the monk seal quietly put its head down and fell asleep.
“It was just a beautiful creature. We were able to capture it — nice to know that it was able to rest and relax , even amidst everybody around it taking pictures,” Stein said.
Stein says this image is a strong reminder that we still have much work to do.
“The whole idea is to keep our precious monk seals safe and watch from a distance. But it was interesting that it let us know — that visitor know — don’t touch me! leave me alone,” Stein said.