Santa Cruz Good Times

Tuesday
Aug 04th
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

 

Health Screening

Santa Cruz wellness expert releases app to improve workplace well-being

 

Leo Sun; Full Moon, Venus Retro in Leo; Saturn Direct

It’s a complex week of planetary movements, challenges, demands and callings. We’re in the time of the Leo Sun. Leo—fixed fire, gold, the heart, generous, strong, noble, the king/queen—needs appreciation and praise from everyone in order to move forward. During Leo we gain a greater sense of self-identification by recognizing our creativity. It’s therefore a perfect time for Venus retrograding in Leo. In Venus retrograde we review and re-assess values. Venus retro in Leo concerns our self as valuable, acknowledging talents, gifts, abilities and offerings. Friday, Venus re-enters Leo (29 degrees, a critical degree) continuing the retrograde to 14 degrees Leo on Sept. 6. Friday (Full Moon) is also the (8 degrees) Leo solar festival, Festival of the Future. Leo is the heart of the sun, the heart of all that matters. When attuned to this heart, we have understanding and inclusivity. The heart of the Lion is Mitra (think “Maitreya,” the coming World Teacher). Leo prepares humanity to receive divine love from subtle sources and later to radiate that love to the kingdoms. Sirius, Ray 2, where love originates, streams through Regulus (heart of Leo), into the heart of the sun (Ray 2) and into all hearts. The heart of Leo is Regulus. Joining Venus, the love underlying all of creation appears. Saturday is Sun/Neptune (confusion or devotion) with late night Saturn turning stationary direct. Ideas, plans and structures held long in abeyance (since March 14) slowly move forward. (Read more on Leo and the week at nightlightnews.org and Risa D’Angeles’ Facebook page, accessed through my website.)

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of July 31

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Holy Cannoli

New bakery opens in Ben Lomond, plus Randall Grahm’s quest to grow 10,000 new grape varieties, and Mexican cooking classes

 

Is Santa Cruz turning into Malibu North?

It's got a ways to go before it gets wrecked like Malibu, but I think we need to be very careful about growth. Maria Mattioli, Santa Cruz, Psychotherapist

 

Bargetto Winery

A much-anticipated annual event at Bargetto Winery is the release of their very special La Vita red wine. June 7 was the day to be heralded this year, and I happily squeezed my car into their overloaded car park in eager anticipation of tasting the new La Vita nectar.

 

Margaritaville

Popular Capitola spot gets new owner and complete makeover