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CRITTER: Tunnels reef sharks, monk seals and divers

Tunnels reef on the North Shore of Kaua‘i is very unique, as it is a sunken volcanic caldera that is part on land and part in the sea. On the outside edge of the old volcano are lava tubes, which were formed from giant gas bubbles when the volcano came to life millions of years ago. Today, these underwater lava tubes are habitat for several shark species, monk seals and us divers, so we all have to get along together in a one-of-a-kind relationship.

I have done more than 300 scuba dives at Makua, shooting video of marine life, but one day in February turned out to be quite exciting. I usually scuba dive by myself during the day, and also at night because I want to make sure that the sharks are relaxed so they behave normally. White tipped reef sharks congregate in the lava tubes in February to breed, and during a flat spell with no surf I decided to go shoot some video of this unusual event.

Diving in the submarine lava tubes at 40 feet deep is super exciting, especially when there are 12 large sharks zooming all over the place. I laid on the sand filming the sharks when I was pulled backward out of a cave. This made no sense to me until I turned around and saw a huge 300 pound monk seal with my fin in its mouth.

This curious seal decided I needed to shoot video of it and not the sharks, so I took advantage of the situation and captured some amazing monk seal footage. The seal hid behind rocks playing peek a boo, buried its nose in the sand and nibbled on my dive gear. I was not alarmed until it lunged at me and bit my camera with its huge teeth.

Most monk seals live in the northwest Hawaiian Islands, but over the last 15 years many of them came down to the main Hawaiian Islands, and the first place they come to is Kaua‘i’s North Shore and Ni‘ihau. Was this seal trying to tell me to stay away from the sharks or was it just playing? Who knows, but it is possible the seal had never seen a scuba diver and was just very curious about this seal-looking critter blowing bubbles with goofy looking eyes and huge tail flippers.

You can see this whole inner action in my movie about the sharks and monks seals at Tunnels up on my YouTube at Underwater2web and let me know what you think. As humans, we still know so very little about the sea around us and all of its amazing creatures. The sea is about 70 percent of the surface of our planet, but we only know about 10 percent of the animals that live there and how they live their daily lives.


Terry Lilley is a marine biologist living in Hanalei. He is co-founder of Reef Guardians Hawai‘i, a nonprofit on a mission to provide education and resources to protect the coral reef. To donate to Reef Guardians Hawaii go to
Source: The Garden Island

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