Santa Cruz Good Times

Wednesday
Apr 16th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

The Story of KP2

blog sealSLUG REPORT > Hawaiian monk seal inspires UCSC researchers and conservationists an ocean away

“If we can teach people about wildlife, they will be touched … humans want to save things that they love.” ― Steve Irwin

This is the story of an unusual monk seal pup, whose claim to fame, though not without tragedy, has triggered a renewed effort in species protection. In 2008, Hō‘ailona was speeding toward the trend of low seal pup survival rate, after being abandoned by his mother on a beach in Kuaui at two days old.

Biologists from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), who have jurisdiction over the monk seal species, found this Kauai Pup 2 (KP2) and oversaw his rehabilitation at a facility in Oahu. By completion, however, the seal pup had become whole-heartedly domestic—a regular at Molokai beaches who preferred spending time with humans over other monk seals.

Although KP2 had made many local friends, due to safety concerns, the NMFS asked UC Santa Cruz ecology and evolutionary biology professor Terrie Williams to provide sanctuary for him at her laboratory in Santa Cruz in 2009, and Long Marine Lab became the pup’s new home. His presence as part of the Marine Mammal Physiology Project would do more for the Monk seal population than Williams anticipated.

Williams’ new book The Odyssey of KP2: An Orphan Seal, a Marine Biologist, and the Fight to Save a Species, recently featured on NPR, chronicles the incredible journey of this one seal. This pup has had his own website for years, and is a household name for many a marine mammal conservationists.

KP2’s arrival sparked both enthusiasm and controversy, as his transfer from Molokai received strong media attention and criticism from the residents who had bonded with him there. Williams, who has studied seals for years, felt “overwhelmed” by the scrutiny at times.

"The human element was something I'd never had to deal with before," Williams said in a press release.

However, not all the scrutiny targeted the trans-ocean relocation. KP2 has become something of an icon for conservation efforts. With a current population of approximately 1,100, Hawaiian Monk Seals are the most critically endangered marine mammals in America. According to a 2007 report by the Marine Mammal Commission, the population declined by 60 percent between 1958 and 2001.

And while KP2’s journey is a unique one, his initial misfortune is all too common. Low seal pup survival rates in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands have been identified by the Marine Mammal Commission as the cause of their declining subpopulations—which has also been linked to human activity and boating use on the beaches that these seals often occupy.

For seals that face extinction in 50 years or less if rates don’t improve, uncovering the details of this pup’s abandonment is larger than Hō‘ailona alone.

"We're in a race to save this species," Williams said in the UCSC press release. "Science can make a difference when we pay attention and understand what animals need. The monk seal researchers in Hawaii tell me that 20 percent of the current population is alive today because of the conservation efforts of the past 15 years.”

Also included in Williams’ book are scientific findings about the monk seal, such as ideal water temperature and dietary needs—many of them came to her thanks to KP2. Because of cataracts discovered in the seal, he is permanently unfit for release.

KP2 left Long Marine Lab in November for a more permanent home at the Waikiki Aquarium, where a large viewing window allows the residents who missed him to interact with the seal. The aquarium is now educating the public about monk seal conservation.

Heather Down is Hō‘ailona’s personal caretaker at the aquarium, and said that although the bond between the friendly seal and visitors is heartening, it must be taken with a grain of salt.

“A relationship like this between wild marine mammals and humans is not something you want to encourage,” Down says.

The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, as well as more local conservation groups, are conducting outreach with the residents of Hawaii to educate them about seal conservation, including abstaining from human-seal interaction.

“I'm hoping this book inspires people to help with that process,” Williams said in the press release. “The most important first step for saving this species is for people to simply care."

A new seal at Long Marine Lab, KE18, also has a story all his own. The seal was also removed from the wild, due to his observed harassment and killing of monk seal pups. Uncovering the causes for his behavior will mean as much for the Hawaiian Monk Seals as KP2’s survival has.

PHOTO: Courtesy of National Marine Fisheries Service.

Comments (2)Add Comment
...
written by Kathy otte, August 28, 2012
I am not quite sure what Heather Down is saying. KP2 is not the typical Monk Seal, being raised by humans is what he knows and loves. He was abandoned by his mother and his life is quite different than other monk seals. I have learned about KP2 and seen him in person at the Wikiki Aquarium. I think he is the best seal ever and now I am worried that KP2's personal caretaker doesn't feel like many others and love him for who he is. I hope he is treated with the respect he deserves.
...
written by Tammy Andrews, July 15, 2012
Heather Down is Hō‘ailona’s personal caretaker at the aquarium, and said that although the bond between the friendly seal and visitors is heartening, it must be taken with a grain of salt. “A relationship like this between wild marine mammals and humans is not something you want to encourage,” Down says.

I hope Heather has developed a strong personal loving bond with Hō‘ailona! It is a bitter sweet ending when a beautiful and special animal that was raised to trust and love human interaction has to end up living life behind glass.


Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Aries Solar Festival

Sunday is Palm Sunday. Symbolizing victory and triumph, paradise, sacrifice and martyrdom, the Pisces World Teacher entered Jerusalem (City of Peace) on a donkey (signifying humility).

 

Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.

 

Animal Magnetism

Bear, mouse dare to be friends in charming ‘Ernest and Celestine’ It’s not exactly Romeo and Juliet. It’s not even a romance, although it is a love story about two individuals separated by prejudice who find the courage to form an unshakable bond despite the rules and traditions that keep them apart.

 

Printer's Devil

Iconic editor Buz Bezore, who died last month at the age of 68, left a huge mark on Santa Cruz journalism   Eventually, it’s all a blur. You live long enough, and maybe a little too hard at times, so that when you hit the rewind button of faded memory, it moves so fast that you can hardly sort and gather the details. One scene skips to the next, and to the next, without proper editing or sequencing. Chronologies get distorted. Which came first: stealing the chickens or coloring the eggs?
Sign up for Tomorrow's Good Times Today
Upcoming arts & events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Foodie File: Yan Flower

Yan Belleville has owned Yan Flower, an affordable Chinese restaurant in Downtown Santa Cruz, with her husband Raymond for eight years, and it’s a family affair. Her brother, sister, sister-in-law, and cousins work there too. Locals know the joint for its massive lunch specials starting at $4.

 

How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Comanche Cellars

Pinot Noir 2010 I first tasted Comanche Cellars Pinot when a friend brought a bottle to share over lunch at Center Street Grill in Santa Cruz. Upon trying it, I knew I had to find out more about it.