The blubbery critter snoozing peacefully in the sunshine in the photo above is a Hawaiian Monk Seal. These seals are among the most endangered marine mammals on the planet, with only around 1,100 individuals remaining. When they pop up onto inhabited beaches, which as far as I can tell happens pretty often, lifeguards run out and put ropes around them to keep beachgoers from getting too close. Tampering with a monk seal can earn you a $25,000 fine and up to five years in prison. You don’t mess with the monk seals.
Monk seals take their napping very, very seriously. They often flop down on the beach (also known as “hauling out”) in the morning and stay there until sunset. And they don’t do a whole lot while they’re there. We ran into the seal in these photos while we were out snorkeling at Tunnels Beach. In the four or so hours that we were there he barely moved a muscle. At one point he wiggled closer to the water, used his giant flippers to throw some water onto his belly, and rolled over onto his back. All of that activity took about 45 minutes to accomplish. And this was the most active monk seal I’ve seen.
When we arrived at the Kalalau campground on Monday I noticed a whole lot of napping going on. People were hunkered down in tents or suspended in hammocks, swinging gently in the warm Hawaiian breeze. We commented to each other that these people were not so different from the monk seals. Our flurry of activity – stomping through the campground, setting up our tent, cooking dinner – seemed rushed and out of place among the lazing masses. I told myself I was going to have to slow down. I thought it would be a struggle.
If your idea of a relaxing vacation is sleeping until 10 and then laying on the beach all day, you should probably not go on vacation with me. When it comes to travel, I am a doer. On our first morning in Kauai I set my alarm for 4:30 so we could drive up to Hanalei to watch the sunrise. I don’t think I slept past 5:00 the entire time we were on the island. I can lay on the beach for approximately one hour before I get antsy. I want to see things and do things and laying around is rarely in the plans. My husband says I’m not good at relaxing and he’s probably right.
That is, of course, until I found myself at Kalalau. The first nap happened around 10 a.m. when the cup of coffee that I had drank several hours earlier began to wear off and the tropical heat began to intensify. I snoozed on the beach for a while and then went to the campsite, ate lunch, and fell asleep again. When that nap was over I hauled my lazy carcass back down to the beach, telling myself I would read my book. Ten minutes later I was out. It went on like this for most of the day, long naps in the sun interrupted only by searches for food and water. It was somewhere around my fifth nap of the day that my husband, unbeknownst to me, snapped the picture in the slider above. Passed out. Again.
The transition from fully functioning human to monk seal took less than 24 hours. And it was glorious while it lasted.