In February 2009, I traveled to Maui with a group of 10 divers from my dive club; Marker Buoys. One of our boat dives took us to the island of Lanai. We left Lahina very early in the morning in one of the boats operated by Extended Horizons. We dove in the Cathedrals on the south side of the island. On our second dive of the day, in Cathedrals II, we were visited by a fairly large Monk Seal. The seal had number tags on both foot-flippers. She swam among us as we went about our dive. Most of us were taking photos and some were running video cameras. As my air ran low, I signaled to our dive master that I was heading for the anchor line and would head up to the boat. I left our group and just as I reached the bottom of the line the seal came over to me and began to hold onto my back and wrapped it's large flippers around my shoulders. I could feel it's mouth on the back of my head and neck. I curled into a ball, holding the anchor line with one hand and holding tight to my mask and regulator with the other hand. There was no opportunity for me to move away or move up the line. The dive master could see I was in trouble, swam over and hit the seal on the nose with her dive light. The backed away, then swam off. I continue up the line with very little air and almost no time for a safety stop. While all of the 'drama' was unfolding, it was being recorded by my good friend Jim McGauhey. He later narrated the video and posted it on You Tube. Click below and you will see his fine work and my first audition tape that I could use if they ever bring back Sea Hunt.
The background on this particular Monk Seal is that 'she' was abandoned as a pup and got regular feedings by fishermen and tourists around Maui. She is large however and regardless of how friendly she may be, swimming among snorkelers at Molokini was starting to drive business away. Her attempt to ride my back was thought to be her way of rescuing me since I was showing lots of air exhaust and I was alone. According to NOAA and the aquarium people in Maui, this is a typical reaction that seals have to protect their own. Had I let go of the anchor line I am sure I would have had a very rapid ascent to the surface and she would have let me go. We later gave NOAA the tag numbers and they were going to come out and relocate her to another distant island.