The first time I saw a monk seal I was leading a night dive, and as I turned around to confirm my divers were still behind me, the four 4 lights I expected were being blocked by an upside down, curious, whiskered face. Although initially caught off guard, once I realized what animal was now weaving in and out of our bubbles, everyone watched in amazement. As we made our way back to shore, the monk seal followed, taking turns appearing next to each diver before disappearing into the dark. Ten years later, this remains one of my most memorable dive experiences.
My interest in diving and interactions with marine life, especially marine mammals, influenced my decision to pursue a second major in marine conservation. Having lived in Hawaii for the past 10 years and typically logged 50+ dives each month, I have noticed how much more rare it has become to see any marine mammal, especially monk seals. While there are many potential factors explaining this perceived decline, monk seals remain critically endangered, and on a personal level, this experiment hopefully will help me understand some of the causes.