Hawaiian monk seal swims alongside a canoe in Kona

Video by David Corrigan, Voice of Stephanie Salazar

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii: An unusual sight at the start of the Queen Liliuokalani Long Distance Canoe Race on Saturday.

This Hawaiian monk seal paid a visit to Kamakahonu Bay fronting the King Kamehameha Kona  Beach Hotel, apparently with the intention of coming ashore. Instead, the critically endangered sea mammal was intrigued by the single hull canoes departing the shoreline to start the race.

As we filmed, the seal followed some of the canoes as they launched, then came to the beach… where the seal has been spotted on multiple occasions, recently… where the paddlers in the race were distracted from the big competition long enough to grab some pictures of the creature and the rare visit.

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world and their population is declining. The species is believed to number a little over a thousand, and there are only about 150 living near the main Hawaiian islands.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asks the public to give the seals space if you see them on the beach or in the water – and to stay at least 150 feet away.