Monk seal bites 2 triathletes off Kona

Pup captured, now in temporary holding area

Published  1:31 PM HST Oct 09, 2013

Triathletes can run, bike and swim. But can anyone prepare for surprise obstacles, like a Hawaiian monk seal?

A four-month-old pup bit two swimmers off Kailua-Kona's King Kamehameha Hotel Tuesday.

Shortly after, wildlife officials captured the 100-pound male seal. It is now in a temporary holding area and being monitored around the clock.

A veterinarian says the seal was trying to engage the swimmers, not attack them.

"When the seal continued to follow them, they paused and it circled around them and at that point, was trying to essentially, it sounds like play with them and nipping behavior is something seals do with other seals," said Michelle Barbieri, a veterinarian with The Marine Mammal Center.

One man was bitten in the abdomen, the other on his knee. Both were small, superficial wounds. Witnesses said they were practicing for this weekend's Ironman World Championships.

"They are often at this point in their lives seeking out lots of interaction with other seals of similar age and unfortunately, there are very few animals, if any, around the areas where this animal seems to be hanging out," Barbieri said.

She said the pup was born May 27 near South Point and since then, has been seen lounging on beaches and piers along the Kona coast of the Big Island.

No word on when or where the seal will be released.

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