Catherine Toth Fox: Want Likes On Social Media? Post Your Dog, Not A Monk Seal - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Opinion article badgeA 417-pound grizzly bear dragged a woman out of her tent and killed her in Montana in July. A woman was killed by an alligator in South Carolina — the fourth death from alligator attacks in the U.S. this year.

A 10-year-old boy had his leg amputated after he was attacked by a shark in the Florida Keys — there have been 61 shark bites since Aug. 16, according to TrackingSharks.com.

And a gang of macaque monkeys have been terrorizing dozens of people and breaking into apartments in Japan.

And folks still want to touch a 400-pound monk seal in Hawaii?

It seems insane — and yet marine experts and conservation volunteers have to set up barriers, post signs and verbally warn people to stay at least 50 feet away from Hawaiian monk seals, considered one of the most endangered seal species in the world.

It’s not like monk seals are known to attack humans. But they will if provoked. And mothers will definitely get aggressive toward anyone getting too close to their pups.

Ask the 60-year-old California elementary school teacher who swam too close to Rocky, a 22-year-old Hawaiian monk seal who had recently given birth to her 14th pup, Koalani, at Kaimana Beach last month. She received cuts to her face, back and arm in an incident that was caught on video and shared on social media. The woman, who was found by the state to have done nothing to provoke the attack, was just 150 feet from shore when it happened.

“Neither of us could sleep (that) night,” the woman told state officials. “Every time I closed my eyes, I was seeing the mother seal’s mouth.”

(Rocky’s pup was relocated Thursday night, and the 24-hour watch over the pair is done.)

This wasn’t the first time a monk seal attacked a swimmer, either. In 2009, at a remote beach in the Poipu area of Kauai, a woman from Washington state encountered a monk seal mother and her pup while snorkeling offshore. A volunteer found her, bloodied and shaken. According to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the seal likely had the woman’s entire head in its mouth.

Her snorkel mask and tube protected her face. “This is a wild animal; the ocean is the seal’s home,” Earl Miyamoto, now a retired DLNR wildlife manager, said in a news release at the time. “If you are out there swimming and it doesn’t matter how strong of a swimmer you are, if that seal decides you’re a threat, you have no chance of escaping.”

I remember walking along Kaimana Beach in May 2021, soon after Kaiwi, a 10-year-old seal, had given birth to her fourth pup.

The pair had drawn tons of attention, and frustrated volunteers had to repeatedly remind people to stay behind the barriers. I had gone to the beach early that day, just after sunrise, and there were no barriers up, no volunteers ensuring people stayed back. And, of course, there was someone armed with an iPhone standing well within the prohibited 150-foot radius of the seals.

Why? What’s the point of getting so close? So you can post a photo of a monk seal that only a few people will see and like on Instagram?

Monk seal named Kaiwi with her week old pup at Kaimana Beach. April 2, 2021
A monk seal known as Kaiwi with her week-old pup at Kaimana Beach in 2021. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Or worse, one that will cost you up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine?

Last year a Louisiana couple was slapped with an undisclosed fine after a TikTok video showed a woman touching a monk seal on a beach in Hawaii. (The husband said he received death threats after the video circulated on social media — which is the point of posting on social media, right?) And in 2018 an Alabama man had to pay $1,500 after he posted videos on Instagram of himself touching a monk seal and harassing a sea turtle while on vacation on Kauai.

It’s a felony under state law to touch, harass, harm or kill any endangered or threatened species — this includes Hawaiian monk seals. So filming yourself doing it is akin to recording yourself breaking into someone’s home — also a felony — and posting it on Instagram. It’s just dumb. Not only could you face jail time, but you could also be viciously attacked by a wild animal — and not live to pay the fine.

While wild animal attacks on humans are still rare, they are increasing, according to research published in the scientific journal Nature. It found that as urban areas in North America have expanded into carnivore habitats, attacks on pets, livestock and humans have been on the rise. So why risk it for likes and follows?

I wish I could argue the point that we should respect all forms of life — native plants, endangered species, other humans — but that hasn’t proven very effective. I still see videos on social media of people trying to swim with dolphins and sea turtles, paddle-boarders getting way too close to pods of whales, and tourists feeding the wild snow monkeys in Japan that are now attacking residents.

This is wildlife harassment and glorifying this behavior will only encourage more people to do it.

Stay away from the wild animals. View from a safe distance. Appreciate them. Donate money to charities that save them. Then adopt a dog, dress him up as a Pokémon and post those photos on Instagram. You’ll probably get more likes for that.


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About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.


Latest Comments (0)

With all due respect, if you want to be actually taken serious in life, get off social media. Its great for seeing old friends and exchanging recipes, but cmon, read a book, volunteer, work in your garden, and post less about it....

LoloErudite · 1 month ago

A dog won’t get you more likes. That’s the problem.

seabass · 1 month ago

should dogs really be dressed up?

Swimmerjean · 1 month ago

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