Posts Tagged ‘diving’

I started this tattoo last month and it needs another hour or so before it is finished but I decided to post it anyway.

This client has been in before and is furthering his collection of Ana’ole Poly by adding a full sleeve. He is an avid waterman–paddles canoe and is a freediver as well– so he chose to go with an ocean-minded theme that reflected his love of the sea. I added other symbols that complemented his initial idea and this is what resulted.

Before I get into the explanations I want to say that one day I will learn to take a proper picture. I don’t know why I have no trouble shooting back up for Anna when she needs a second shooter at say, a wedding, but when it comes to shooting my own work, I screw the pooch. Oh well, I will get better!

Looking at the first picture, beginning from the left and moving to the right, you will first see the inside of his arm as if he were facing you head on with his palm turned toward you. Each consecutive picture moves around his arm with the last picture being the rear shot of his arm.

Starting from his wrist (and the image furthest to the left), the symbols progress as such:

There is a column of lightning that wraps around his wrist followed by a vine of maile with 4 leaves inset with momi (pearls) reflecting a FS. Inset into these two vines are the tips of the maile vines themselves.
From the side view (pic 3 from left) there are rain drops which segue into the lighting from that angle.
On the underside of his forearm (pics 4,5) are six wind-blown waves. Together all of these symbols create the rain on the ocean accompanied by lightning, suggesting power and perpetual change as well as joy, good fortune and growth. Rain is one of those symbols with balanced meanings with both positive and negative connotations.

Just below the inside elbow joint or ditch, are a trio of all seeing eyes which are surrounded by an unfurling palm frond (signifying growth) themselves crowned by five hawk feathers (hulu i’o) the combined ornament of all three symbols also carry the FS.
These compound symbols represent insight, protection from adversaries, nobility and growth.

Underneath these symbols are a row of shark teeth (niho mano) containing FS.

(Note: FS= Fibonacci Sequence, refer to past Ana’ole posts on this blog)

On the outside of his arm in the same general space (in the same pauku as the rain) are three waves (nalu) accompanied by two mini blade shaped paka which contain a total of three stars which symbolize strength, inspiration and hope. Below this pauku is the image of Pele (which I need to still finish).

Moving upward into the inside elbow crease is a symbol called Pohaku wa wahi wa’a, which was a stone hammer used to smash the hulls of enemy canoes. Ancient Hawaiian’s would sneak up on an enemy encampment in the dark of the night and smash their canoe hulls with this tool, and then slip away into the darkness. Since this person paddles canoe then I thought this image appropriate. Set into the blade of his axe-like weapon are a row on shark teeth (niho mano), three waves (nalu), and a spiral of ocean water.

Above this symbol lies another row of shark teeth reflecting a FS.

On his bicep is the god of the sea Kanaloa. He is adorned with water, waves and a small he’e (octopus) that pokes out from the bottom of his jaw.

The final symbol is located on his tricep and is an unfurling fiddle head fern set under the image of the sun. In the sun’s rays are FS as well. This part of the tattoo still needs a little work and is the part that I need to finish.

Total time:

18hrs

Equipment used:

Dragonfly, Rotary Works (machines)

5RL,15M

One (ink)

Peace!

Anna likes Barracuda Bay (not its real name) because it has a tiny beach. When I say tiny I’m talking about a patch of sand no bigger than a kiddie swimming pool. Such are the hardships of living on the youngest of all the Hawaiian Islands; proper beaches are few and far between. Needless to say, she had hounded me all week to go back so that she could get in (via the tiny beach) to try out her new underwater camera housing, again. So we loaded up the truck and headed back down to BB.

This time I was better prepared for my blue water excursion, electing to bring my smaller blue water gun (with which I have a love/hate relationship with) instead of my reef gun, because the former has more range and power. Instead of spoons I brought a half dozen, ten inch long bait fish which are irresistible to anything with lips (including myself) that I planned on tossing out, ala the spoons, to lure the bigger game. Known as opelu, these bait fish are commonly named mackerel shad, and if they weren’t so damned hard to shoot, I would hunt them exclusively because they’re so tasty!

The conditions were much nicer today than they were last week. There was no noticeable swell, and despite a rising tide and a full moon, there weren’t any freakish tides or otherwise petulant surges to add to the mix. The sun was out, there was no wind and standing on the rocky outcropping that overlooked my entry point, with my polarized sunglasses on, I could see clearly to the bottom. Things were looking good.

I suited up and jumped in, letting the gentle action of the tides carry me out past the inshore reef toward the sandy bottom of the outside, toward blue water.

One BIG secret to any sort of diving (whether it be blue water or reef) and landing fish is to not act like a human. Meaning, don’t splash around and hyperventilate into your snorkel. Don’t point your gun at everything that swims by and absolutely DO NOT swim with cadence. Fish don’t swim with any sort of measured rhythm, they dart here and there, sometimes they stop and nibble on something, or they hide under a rock. Never do they just swim about in a straight line. If you plan on landing any fish, neither should you. Let the current take you a bit. Kick one leg gently and drift, then kick with the other leg. Stop and just float. Then, maybe for a short burst, kick with both feet, before you stop and drift along with the current. This way the fish won’t get (as) spooked when they see you and may even swim closer to investigate. It takes a very long time to uncover such knowledge, believe me, I used to swim like a motorboat and often wondered why the fish were never around.

Today the haze layer that plagued me last week was minimal. Floating at the surface I could see all the way down to the bottom, some sixty feet below. Sixty feet is considered shallow for blue water, but it is blue water nonetheless. You know when you’re in blue water, because like I had mentioned earlier, something changes in the clarity of the water and you suddenly feel as if you are hovering in the center of an enormous blue room. The viz was so good that I could see striations in the sand from the action of the ocean; row after row of perfectly uniformed lines like a mountain range as seen from space. I yanked the first opelu from my float and tossed it into the briny sea.

It floated for a moment at the surface before it began to descend, slowly toward the bottom. This fish was a teaser. Generally, unless there are fish within the immediate vicinity, the first fish will go unnoticed. When using fish or spoons to draw in bigger fish it is a good idea to also bring along a bag of palu, or chum. This is generally made by chopping up fish, squid or octopus or utilizing the innards of cleaned fish, mixing with cans of mackerel and flour and making a kind of ‘dough’ that you can form into softball sized globules and toss out with your spoons or whole fish. I didn’t have time to make palu today, so I went without. My bad.

The teaser fish settled to the bottom where it languished in the sand as if it were sleeping off a hard night of high seas living. A couple of triggerfish swam by and tried to wake him up but got nowhere, so began to nibble on the sleeping fishes face. Since most fish don’t sleep in the daytime, these triggerfish were obviously haters. But this is all a good thing. Feeding fish attract other fish, thus the Byzantine complexities of the inner workings of fishdom are revealed. I used this opportunity to toss out another opelu.

An uku, or blue-green snapper passes by underneath me as I tossed the fish out. As the opelu began to sink I remembered that I brought along Anna’s small underwater camera and decided to try and snap some shots. Pulling it from my float I immediately questioned my reasoning for bringing the gadget, as my gloves were ill equipped to push the fantastically small power button. For what seemed like forever I wrestled with the camera until it finally came on. When I looked back into the water, I wish that I had done so sooner.

The two opelu were lolling back and forth in the sand, like two drunken college roomies, surrounded by a horde of trigger fish intent on, I don’t know what, when gliding into view, a few feet off the bottom, like a pair of brunette Victorian-era wigs, came a pair of octopus. Octopus (I am refraining from using the word octopi, because this ain’t no nature show, dammit!) do not swim with their arms, nor do they swim like a spider would walk, nor do they swim like a fish. Octopus, when not being chased, curl their legs, flatten their bodies, and just sort of glide through the water like a flying carpet. It is a very regal and purposeful sight to see and if you squint just right you can imagine a flying wig.

Wasting no time, the pair of octopi (crap!) hovered over the baitfish before enveloping them (each ‘pus taking its own fish) and then proceeded to swim away with my bait. I tried to get a picture of it all but since they were fifty feet below me, and the camera had a max depth of twenty feet, by the time I reached twenty-five feet down I realized that I could damage the camera and so managed to only snap a picture of one of my fins, I think.

After twenty minutes, nothing of note had materialized and I was out of opelu. I tried to dive on the uku but it since it was still a baby– maybe fifteen inches long, maybe three pounds– I decided to head into the shore and see if I could find some action. On my way in I saw the only barracuda of the day, which was the same punk that had laughed at me last week and he must have recognized my displeasure at being ridiculed because the moment our eyes met he sped off into the deep.

Patrolling the inshore zone I came across a nice sized lai (queenfish) that I took a late shot on and hit. Lai are an interesting fish because of how they were utilized for the purpose of fishing, back in the day as well as now.

A member of the Jack family, lai are a top water fish meaning that they spend a majority of their lives near the surface of the water where they eat tiny fish fry and other tasty bits of whatever it is that they like to eat. They are silver in color and it is this shiny and resilient skin that makes them ideal for creating fishing lures with. Did I also mention that they are very delicious, best eaten raw? Well, they are.

Anyway, once the skin is removed from the fish and dried in the sun it becomes not unlike cowhide, that is, leather-like. Cutting the skin into strips and securing it to a hook is how the old timers would use the lai skin. Cast and retrieve fishing (colloquially referred to as ‘whipping’) is a popular style among shore fishers and given its strength and (if cut correctly) tendency to move through the water like a slender silver fish, lai skin makes perfect use of normally discarded part of the fish. Lai skin was also used in the very first trolling lures, which were often made from resin and allowed insetting flashy bits into the lure to add realism. Big fish are no different than little fish, mynah birds and yard sale enthusiasts in that if something is shiny, it’s going home.

Now before any PETA-philes  (goes together like peanut butter and chocolate lab) lambast me for killing Sea Kittens (no, I can’t make stuff like this up: http://features.peta.org/PETASeaKittens/about.asp )know this: I only take what I can consume, and I do not over fish. And, I make sure to eat all of the Sea Kittens that I catch. With a generous helping of baby seal jelly.

The lai struggled for a moment before I took out my knife and ended its futile attempts at trying to evade me. Lai are also tricky because they have four semi-poisonous spines right in front of their dorsal fin that leave a painful welt whenever they break the skin (another reason to not let it flap around on your stringer like a whirling dervish).

Looking back to shore I saw Anna waving to let me know that it was time to head in. I secured my catch and began swimming back, visions of raw Sea Kitten dipped in wasabi and shoyu making my stomach grumble.

As I was pulling my fins off while trying to maintain my balance as the tide pushes me back and forth over jagged rocks filled with sea urchins, I decide that we should give Barracuda Bay a rest for a while. And maybe wait for the kittens to turn into cats.

Today I was determined to get into the water.

 

Over the past month I’d upgraded a lot of my dive equipment–something that is wise to do often–and was eager to get in and try everything out. It’s better to test out new gear in a place that will afford you the time to fiddle and adjust things, should it be required, so I decided on a place about 10 miles south, down a dirt road, that had a nice deep bay that was relatively calm. Anna wanted to come and try out her new underwater camera housing, so we piled our gear into the truck and headed out.

 

Driving down the road I kept an eye on the water, checking to see where the wind line ended and watching the current. About half way to our destination the conditions began to improve as we drove further away from the wind blowing in from the northeast.

 

As we turned off of the main highway and onto the dirt road, I could already see that there was no one at the spot, we would have it all to ourselves!

 

I parked the truck and we walked a short dirt trail to the water. As we went, I listened to the ocean and the sound that it made as it crashed on the rocks. The ocean sounded somewhat calm, with only a slight surge as the tide came in breaking lazily over the rounded boulders near the water’s edge. When the ocean came into view I noticed that on the outside, in the blue water where I planned on diving, a slight wind chop had started as the gust from the northeast began to change direction. The ocean wasn’t glassy but it wasn’t the worst that I had seen for this area. The water was a little shaky, but it would have to do.

 

Anna decided to go on her own once we came to where the dirt trail ended. She kissed me and told me to be safe. I walked down toward the water, across the black lava rock that was toasty warm from the afternoon sun. I wasted no time. I suited up and jumped in.

 

I swam along the shore for a while waiting for something to malfunction before I turned and went out to deeper water. It didn’t take long before I felt me new knife come loose from my arm begging me to mess around with it.  The thing about fixating on a task while in the water, that requires you to concentrate on something while trying to ignore the moving water around you, is that it will quickly lead to wanting to barf. I have never done such a thing in the water, although a friend of mine threw up in his snorkel once after he surfaced from a deep dive. But the fact that he had a lip full of chewing tobacco may have played a small part as well. No, I am not making this up.

 

To avoid this predicament, I do what needs to be done as quickly as possible. Taking off gear and packing it on my float takes only seconds. But putting a dying fish onto your stringer when you’re bobbing up and down in the ocean, especially in the blues, where you have no reference points because the reef is just a black and green smudge underneath you, is a good way to make yourself hurl. I take off my knife and stuff the straps into the pocket on my float. I slip the knife onto my belt and head out to the blue water. I’m in no mood to test my equilibrium.

 

Visibility is poor and hazy, maybe 100 feet when I reach blue water. I float above a wide patch of sand that is 75 feet below me. Because of the poor viz, which was most likely caused by the wind, the usually crystal clear blue water now lies in a column twenty feet below me. I swim in through the haze and when I look out toward the open ocean I am looking through the haze. I don’t particularly care for these conditions, although pelagic fish use the cover of the hazy water to come closer to shore, which can be a good and bad thing.

 

At this point I figure that I would toss out some flashers, which are just bent spoons, to see if anything decides to come in and investigate. I have three.

 

I toss the first one out and it hits the water and begins to tumble like a wounded fish as it heads to the bottom. I look out in the blue and see nothing. My mind begins to play tricks on me and suddenly, through the haze I’m seeing flashes of silver and quick, dark shadows. I watch the spoon nestle in the white sand below. A nosy triggerfish swims over to investigate, then swims away. Suddenly, my heartbeat quickens and I get the ‘fish feeling’.

 

The fish feeling is hard to describe, even to other divers. Hell, I don’t even understand it myself. All that I know is that when I get the feeling, I should prepare myself. It has never let me down, although I’m sure that at times I may have been too out of touch to recognize it. At any rate, the feeling came over me and for some reason I began to think Rainbow Runner.

 

I love RR, they are also called the Hawaiian Salmon because their meat is red, but they are a member of the jack family and are found off shore in schools. They can reach four or five feet in length and weigh upwards of 40 pounds but generally those size fish are rare. So, like an idiot whose mind is overcome with visions of ruby red slices of sashimi stacked high in my refrigerator, I toss out another spoon because, well, I have the fish feeling.

 

This spoon hits the water, and like the one before it, begins to tumble downward like a wounded fish, to the bottom of the sea. I ready myself, looking out into the haze to see if anything has noticed my cheap tactic. I see a flash of silver and another! And then something materializes out of the haze. Before I can congratulate myself for being a fish psychic, I see another shape appear and then another. They aren’t rainbow runners although they share a similar shape. In seconds I’m surrounded by a school of Great Barracuda, or as they are know in Hawaii, kaku.

 

Firstly, kaku are solitary fish. The most that I have ever seen together are 3, and they weren’t so much together as they were in the same vicinity. I count 8. And although they aren’t huge kaku, which would be an animal 6 feet or more in length, they aren’t small either; four footers mainly, but I see a five-footer swimming out at the edge of visibility. These fish probably weigh 20-30 pounds I would guess.

 

Secondly, if you dive a lot and come across these fish often you will know how they approach you once they’ve decided to investigate. If they were people, they would be considered rude, face talkers. You know the kind that don’t give a rip about personal space that like to get all up in your face when they talk to you. Kaku are like that.

 

They approach you slowly, head-on, making them difficult to see outright. With their head angled slightly downward like a growling dog, it’s down right creepy. Add to this the fact that kaku are amazingly stupid, devastatingly fast predatory fish, that are attracted to flashing objects and swift movements. So much for my fish feeling.

 

Like playground bullies they surrounded me, closing the circle ever so slowly until they were so close that I could see their missing scales and parasites. I thought about shooting one, particularly the biggest one who had come in for a closer look and didn’t seem to want to leave. I contemplated having to deal with its gnashing teeth and ‘fight-to-the-last-breath’ attitude and decided against it. Kaku, although delicious, often carry ciguatera, a nasty little protist that taints the meat causing symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, reversal of heat/cold sensory, that is incurable once the threshold for ingested tainted fish has been reached. Besides, the last pesky kaku that I shot, tangled up my gear and almost bit my finger off and it was only 18 inches long.

 

So I floated, surrounded by a school of kaku. I looked back at the shore and saw the speck of Anna sitting calmly, taking pictures of something. The water churned and I with it. Calmly, the predatory fish circled looking for something interesting. I poked at one with the tip of my speargun.

 

After a few minutes they became bored and slowly disappeared back into the haze. I tossed my last spoon at them to see if they would some back but only one did. As it swam by it gave me a look like I was wasting its time.

 

I swam around for another hour, just looking at the fish. I took a half-hearted shot at a parrotfish but that was all. As the tide came in, so did the wind and swell. I saw Anna sitting on a boulder by the shore smiling at me. I decided that it was time to call it a day.

 

My fish sense was telling me that I needed to eat some lunch.

The old saying goes, “Once you enter the water, you’re entering the food chain”, or something along those lines. Surfers throw this axiom around as if they hope to obviate it through repetition. But then again when you’re floating along on a chip of foam in the ocean, splashing around like wounded prey, accepting the truth is far more advantageous than denying it. At least when something tugs on your leg, or bumps your board you’ll know that you have a few extra seconds to make your peace with the world before sliding down the gullet of some prehistoric predator.

For a freediver things are a little different.

Where as a surfer enters the water as potential prey, the spearfisher enters the water at the top of the food chain. And barring any freakish circumstance or stupidity on the divers part, that position can be guaranteed to never change.

Or so we hope.

Often, before I even dip a fin into the water, I have already determined which type of fish to target. I find that this discipline helps me to remain focused on a goal rather than just shooting at whatever comes along. Being a proponent of sustaining the resource, I also find that having predetermined targets also means that I harvest only what I need and nothing else.

On this particular day I had targeted the mamo (sergeant major), a plankton eating damselfish, which are great in soup or fried in a pan. As the largest of specimens are roughly the size of an open hand, they are slightly challenging to catch especially when using a spear gun as opposed to a pole spear. I often target these abundant fish because of the fact that shooting at such a small target helps to improve my aim. The conditions were near perfect that day, with no surge or swell, a light off shore breeze, with the tide on the rise.

Mamo aren’t a fish that are effected by the phases of the moon as much as other species and can be found congregating around boulders, coral heads, and caves at all times of the day. During spawning season they are literally swarming everywhere and make easy targets.

But sometimes, regardless of the amount of fish in the water, landing one, even the smallest one, can be a herculean task. That is why spearfishermen have coined the phrase, “Better lucky than good” which pretty much sums up the sport in four short words. Although possessing technical skill is a bonus, it doesn’t always guarantee results.

After triple checking my gear I slid quietly into the water and slowly swam out to one of several target areas where I knew that I could find some mamo. As I drifted with the feeble current I saw a dozen or so of the silvery green fish hovering about in mid water over the coral crusted hulk of what used to be a cargo ship’s motor. Mamo, like most fish, tend to congregate in areas where they can quickly hide from predators and an old engine makes a perfect shelter.

After several shallow dives I had managed to spear three fish before the school got wise and took off for a better hiding place. When targeting specific fish, it’s good to know where these hiding places are so that you can plan your attack accordingly. If done correctly a dive can consist of merely swimming between these places and harvesting fish.

I did just that, and in a little over an hour I had ten fish on my stringer which was more than enough. I always think that it’s good to work for your fish rather than not, and that day I felt that I had done a decent amount of work.

I began to swim back to where I had entered the water, which was sheltered boat landing, popular with locals and tourists alike for its easy water access and lack of depth. Children were playing and splashing around as usual and I was momentarily lost in the tranquility of it all when I felt a tug on my float line.

When spearing fish, unless you are using a pole spear, the typical set up is to have a float attached by a float line to your gun. This way if you shoot a big fish you can let go of your gun and the fish will fight the float, everything being attached. Having a longer float line, sometimes up to a hundred or more feet in lenght, ensures that when you attach your harvested fish to your float, that the whole rig can be kept at a distance from your body just incase anything swims up to investigate. A stringer full of dead and dying fish is a magnet to almost everything out in the sea.

My first thought then, was that it was a shark. Getting taxed by ‘The Man’ is something that happens often and is all part of the sport. Letting a shark have a fish or two is merely paying a toll. Protection money in a way.  Besides, you shouldn’t really try to punish an apex predator for being lazy. Especially those with razor sharp teeth and a brain no bigger than a nickel.

I turned, expecting to see the tenacious critter pulling at my string of fish, but instead found a pair of eyes gazing back at me. They weren’t the soulless yet penetrating eyes of a shark, but rather the dark expressive eyes of a juvenile monk seal. I instantly recognized its expression. It was hungry.

The seal plucked a fish from my stringer like it was picking an apple from a tree. It then swam away in a curtain of bubbles.

At that point I considered myself lucky. I got the chance to see one of the rarest most endangered species in the world, in its own habitat, and it only cost me a fish. I turned and resumed swimming back in. Then I felt another tug.

I turn to see my new friend, flippers wrapped around another one of my fish like it was holding a tuna sandwich. It was as if it where smiling with its eyes. Not so much a friendly smile as a smug one. It yanked the fish from my stringer and began swimming in circles around my float.

At this point my float is still roughly forty feet away from me but judging by the size, this seal looks to be in the neighborhood of two hundred pounds, maybe five feet long. A full grown adult can weigh upwards of six hundred pounds and over eight feet in length. Monk seals by nature are very reclusive and avoid human contact. They can also be quite aggressive. All of these thoughts are running through my mind as I watch it grab another fish from my stringer.

I look in toward the landing and see the kids playing and a tourist getting into the water with a pink rash guard and yellow fins. It wouldn’t be a good idea to lead the seal into the shallows around all of the people, so I decide to stand my ground and see what happens.

I turn back just in time to see the seal swimming directly toward me, still holding the fish. Several yards before it reaches me, it dives down and glides underneath me turning over on its back as it cruises by. Its eyes betrayed what was really going on in the creature’s head. I could tell that it was thinking of how it was going to get the rest of my fish from me. I can’t explain it other than it was simply a feeling that I had peering into those shiny black orbs.

It made me feel like a clod, an alien, something not worthy of being in the ocean, the way it seemed to fly through the water like a giant bird. I suddenly felt the awkwardness of the snorkel in my mouth; the way the air rushing out next to my ear sounded like a dull hack saw on glass. My mask also seemed too restrictive and I noticed the imperfections in the lenses, like I was peering out of a fish bowl. My long fins seemed like cheap imitations–toys at the ends of my feet. I was embarrassed.

My heart rate increased because I knew now that there was some species on species competition going on that I couldn’t avoid even if I wanted to. So I did the first thing that came into my mind, which the last thing I should have done. But being a competitive creature myself I wanted to protect what was mine, so I began pulling my float in closer. Some part of my lizard brain figured that maybe the seal would understand that by my actions I was intending to assert that the fish were mine and to leave them alone.

The seal, unfortunately, had other ideas.

As I pulled my float closer the seal swam off toward my right and disappeared from view. Thinking that my ploy had worked, I pulled the float up to within arms length.

Float line, as the name implies, is essentially a very thick monofilament line encased in a buoyant rubber sheath. It is meant to float on the surface of the water and not sink. It is also very strong, my particular line had a breaking point of over five hundred pounds of pressure.

The problem is that when you pull in fifty feet of float line, unless you are winding it into a spool (which I wasn’t), it collects on the surface of the water in a big tangled mess. As soon as I realized that perhaps I had not made such a good decision, the seal was back.

It was in my face, my float was the only barrier between myself and the spunky pinniped. It was so close that I could see the decay on its dog-like teeth. The thought of getting bitten by its disease-ridden mouth horrified me. It grabbed another one of my fish in its mouth and bit it in two. Then it started on another. As it was feeding and somewhat distracted, I snatched my pole spear from my float. A pole spear is just what is sounds like: a long thin pole, made of graphite, fiberglass or aluminum with a three-pronged spear head attached at one end and a rubber sling, which propels the device through the water, at the other end. My intention was to poke the seal with the spear to try and get it to move away. This tactic works well with sharks, which only require a slight bump on the nose or body to get them to back off. I would have gladly traded this seal for three sharks any day.

I turned the spear around so that the loop of rubber was facing the seal, then thought twice about the seal getting caught up in the loop and so turned the pointed end of the spear at the creature. It probably sensed something because it immediately began swimming toward me. All I could do was hold the spear out in front of me as it closed the short distance between us.

As the head of the spear touched its body, the seal began to swim toward me with more conviction. Its rubbery skin seemed to envelope the spearhead without causing the seal any discomfort whatsoever. In fact, the contact seemed to energize the seal and it began pushing toward me to such a degree that my spear began to bow. It began snapping its jaws in a playful manner. By the time we were face to face I had dropped my spear and had nothing but my hands to defend myself. It began swimming in tight loops right in front of me, tangling itself in the float line. This seemed to make it angry and it began splashing around and bumping into me. I had no choice but to use my hands to keep it from getting us both tangled up. I pushed at it, kicked at it, at one point I remember punching it, but my actions were futile.

I heard someone yelling for their kids to get out of the water and I saw that I had a small audience watching from the safety of dock. The seal was becoming more entangled and was growing more and more frantic. I didn’t know what else to do so I grabbed my spear gun from my float and tried to push myself away from the seal with the butt of the gun. It seemed that the more I tried to distance myself, the more the seal would try and close the gap.

At this point I began to lose my cool. I was scared for my life and scared that this thing would drag me to the depths of hell while nibbling on my dying carcass. So I hit it with the butt of my gun several times using all the strength that I could muster. The first few blows to the body seemed to get its attention. Then I held the butt of the gun under its chin and pushed it backwards. It didn’t like that one bit!

It was if the seal had finally got the message. It looked at me as if to say that it was hurt that I didn’t want to play with it anymore. I jabbed it one more time to make sure it understood my intentions. Then it untangled itself with no effort, grabbed another fish from my float and disappeared into the blue.

When I climbed out of the water there I had four fish left out of ten. Actually four and a half, because there was a head still attached to the stringer. People were asking me what had happened and that it looked like I needed help. I told them that there was nothing anyone could have done and it was good that no one tried to jump in because it probably would have made matters worse.

I drove home contemplating my position on the food chain and decided that I would be lucky to be at the top.

Several weeks later I drove by the landing to check out the water and saw a guy from the DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources) sitting on a rock looking out at the sea. Feeling somewhat unnerved at having assaulted an endangered animal I decided to tell him of my encounter. I opened with the sentence, “A few weeks ago I was diving out here and I had an encounter with a monk seal.”

His eyes lit up and he replied, “Was it the juvenile female? Did she have a yellow tag on her flipper?”

I remembered that it did.

“Great!” He said, “That’s why I’m here. We’ve been looking for her.”

I proceeded to tell him about the entire experience including the punching and kicking and the part about using the butt of my gun. He laughed.

“Oh, you did the right thing. You did what you had to do; it’s not a big deal. As a man of the ocean, you know what you should and shouldn’t do. You protected yourself, that’s what I would have told you to do anyway.”

His words made me feel better. At least I wouldn’t be prosecuted.

He chuckled and said, “But you had it easy.”

“Oh?”

“Well we’ve received several phone calls in the past few months of that seal harassing people. One person was trying to climb out of the water and the seal swam up behind them, grabbed them with its flippers and pulled them back in. They were tourists from like, Kentucky or something. They don’t have seals out there. So they were pretty shaken up.

Another lady was trying to feed it part of her sandwich while she was in the water and it pulled her down by her feet. It was her own stupid fault trying to feed it anyway.”

He then went on to tell me that the seal had been raised on the other side of the island on a small public beach. Not wanting to disturb the mother, the state constructed a rope barrier around the mother and her pup to cordon off the area. This didn’t stop people from stepping over it to feed the seal and take pictures with it. He said that this early contact with people was why this particular seal had no fear of humans. He also told me that they have tried on three separate occasions to relocate the seal, deploying helicopters and a transfer boat complete with all personnel at the cost of over 100K per incident. But the seal always found its way back, even from other islands!

The last I heard about the seal, they were attempting to take it to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands some 1500 miles away. Hopefully she’ll find whatever it is that she’s looking for out there.