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They say that not all human-seal conflicts end in death in Hawaii, which is the case for KP2 who, at only a few days old, was rescued by a NOAA veterinarian after seeing he was alone, attempting to nurse from some rocks and calling out for his mother, RK22, who was nowhere in sight. Because RK22 had a history of rejecting her pups shortly after birth, a decision was made to rescue and rehabilitate him in the hopes of, not only preventing a potential death of a rejected pup, but also ensuring the survival of a critically endangered mammal, whose numbers were only around 1,100. From there, he was taken to the Kewalo Research Facility in Oahu.
Although the rehabilitation of Monk seals was not a new concept for the state of Hawaii, the rehabilitation of a newborn pup was completely new to them. This is because a newborn pup like KP2 would need round-the-clock care by people for several months before even considering the possibility of releasing him back into the wild, and it would also mean that he would have to have contact with people to ensure he would recover and thrive, even though the outcome of the entire rehabilitation would be uncertain. So, anyway, when he arrived in Oahu, KP2 weighed around 25 pounds and was very alert on so many levels. In addition, he also demonstrated normal reflexes and vocalized like any Monk seal pup would, which sounds very high-pitched comparing to an adult’s deep bellow. At first, biologists were not sure how to rehabilitate the pup. Well, that was until they got in touch with a pinniped rehab facility that was based in California. As it turned out, when juvenile pinnipeds get rescued after getting stranded on beaches, they are fed a special formula that is made of electrolytes, fish oil, and herring poured into a mash, which would then be fed to KP2 by inserting a long tube down his throat. Within 14 days of his rescue, KP2 began to show signs of improvement.
By the time KP2 was six weeks old, the age when Monk seal pups begin to be weaned off their mothers’ milk, his caretakers decided that it was the best time to feed him solid fish. At first, they tried to feed him cold-thawed fish, but he showed no interest. Then, they tried live fish that came from a local pound, and, as it turned out, KP2 really enjoyed it. The Moi, the fish that KP2 was fed, is a type of fish found in waters across Hawaii that was once served as a delicacy to Hawaiian royalty. As time went on, KP2 would chase the Moi around in his enclosure and on some occasions, he would use his flippers to create waves that were powerful enough to wash them onto the deck. By July of 2008, KP2 was beginning to eat 20 pounds of live fish a day and was swimming and growing at a normal rate.
In September of 2008, KP2 was moved to a sea pen at a military base in Kaneohe Bay. There, his caretakers began to prepare him for his release back into the wild. Three months later, he was released, after a total of eight months of rehabilitation. However, it was all short-lived when it had become clear that he had become too accustomed to people and was beginning to develop a serious eye condition that required treatment. Eventually, he was recaptured and sent to Long Marine Laboratory in California for the purposes of being treated for his new eye condition and to be part of a research study on Monk seals. During his time in California, trainers, veterinarians, and researchers learned a great about Hawaiian Monk seals by simply working with KP2. Then, in 2011, KP2 was given a forever-home at the Waikiki aquarium where he currently serves as an ambassador for his species and their plight out in the wild.
The story of KP2 is very unique for Monk seal rescues in Hawaii because he is actually one of five known pups of this particular species to have survived to adulthood. In fact, his rescue did lead to the establishment of the Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola facility in Hawaii, which aims at rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing Monk seals back into the wild. His story is also a reminder of why it’s very important to rescue and care for sick, injured, and orphaned Monk seals to ensure the survival of the species.
Facts about Hawaiian Monk Seals
- While Monk seals were said to have first appeared in the fossil record around 14–16 million years ago, Hawaiian Monk seal colonies first appeared in the Hawaiian Islands around 10 million years ago.
- Hawaiian Monk seals are solitary animals with the only substantial bonds being between mothers and pups.
- Pups are born between March and June.
- They may grow up to six feet long and weigh up to 510 pounds.
- They are found exclusively in Hawaii.
- They have been known to dive down to about 200 feet below the surface of the water in search of prey.
- They are currently threatened by entanglement, pollution, and loss of food source.
- They are regarded as one of the most endangered marine mammals in both the United States and the world.