July 30th, 2012
KP2, or Ho‘ailona, has a message for the world.
It's a message about the plight of Hawaiian monk seals. With only 1,100 left in the world, the seals are on the brink of extinction if we don't do anything about it. The Caribbean monk seal, a close cousin, went extinct in 1952. The Mediterranean monk seal is also critically endangered – only 500 are left in the wild.
In "The Odyssey of KP2," by Terrie M. Williams, we learn of KP2's unusual life, from birth and abandonment by his mother on a Kauai shoreline to his rescue and release on Molokai by federal agencies, only to be retrieved from those waters because he became too friendly with humans at Kaunakakai Harbor.
There were also fishermen that wanted KP2 out of their waters because they did not want him eating their fish. Plucking him from the harbor was highly controversial, setting off protests from Molokai residents who said KP2 belonged in their waters.
So KP2 ends up under Williams' care at Long Marine Laboratory, UC Santa Cruz. While measuring his metabolic rate and carrying out other studies, she concludes that Hawaiian monk seals are biologically tied to the Hawaiian isles. That is, they thrive and survive best in Hawaii.
KP2, because of eyesight problems, was not able to be released back into the wild, but has since found a new home at the Waikiki Aquarium. You can watch him on the aquarium's webcam: www.waquarium.org/webcams.html.
But the plight of the Hawaiian monk seal continues. In April, a Hawaiian monk seal died under suspicious circumstances in northeastern Kauai. It was the fourth death of a monk seal since November. Two have died on Kauai and two on Molokai.
In good conditions, Hawaiian monk seals live an average of 25 to 30 years in the wild, weighing anywhere between 375 to 450 pounds.
The biggest threats to Hawaiian monk seals are entanglement, food limitation, disease, shark bites and climate change.
Williams says you don't have to be a scientist to help – sign a petition, support more funding for monk seal research or organize a beach cleanup. Spread the word by making a video, writing a song or poem or drawing a picture to show you care on the Save Monk Seals Facebook page.
It could be as simple as picking up after yourself at the beach. Monk seals, because of their curiosity, love to lie on anything left at the beach (including trash) and that's what sometimes gets them entangled.
To learn more about what you can do, visit www.savemonkseals.ucsc.edu.
Other websites where you can learn more include NOAA's monk seal research site, NOAA Fisheries and Marine Mammal Center which plans to build a Hawaiian monk seal hospital in Kona. The Monk Seal Foundation's Pu‘uhonua Initiative seeks to create a dedicated Hawaiian monk seal facility and education program at Sea Life Park.