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Thursday, November 27, 2014         

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO ...


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Monk seal KP2 thriving at University of California facility


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Question: Whatever happened to KP2, the nearly blind Hawaiian monk seal that was moved from Molokai by federal marine officials after becoming too familiar with humans?

Answer: The monk seal KP2 was taken to the Waikiki Aquarium in October 2009 and stayed there for a couple of months before being flown to a marine mammal research facility at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Federal marine fisheries officials said KP2 is doing well and helping scientists understand the physiology of Hawaiian monk seals.

The population of Hawaiian monk seals, an endangered species, has declined in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by about 40 percent in the last decade, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

David Schofield, the agency's marine mammal response coordinator, said KP2 has gained weight, indicating he's healthier.

Schofield said scientists and their assistants at the Santa Cruz pool facility have found KP2 easy to train.

"He's a very good pupil. He's very attentive. ... He wants to please," Schofield said.

Schofield said scientists have put a plastic bubble over the pool, added sand and heated the water to simulate a Hawaiian environment.

He said through monitoring and testing of KP2, scientists have found that monk seals have a narrow temperature threshold and can survive only in warm climates.

Schofield said scientists plan to reassess KP2's eyes in January and use ultrasound to see whether his cataracts are worsening.

Federal marine mammal officials cared for KP2 for about six months, after his mother abandoned him in 2008.

He was released at Kalaupapa on north Molokai, in the hope that he would join monk seals in the area.

But he eventually moved to the human-populated wharf area at Kaunakakai and continued to return there, despite being moved elsewhere by federal marine officials.

Federal officials said KP2 was captured about a year ago after he exhibited aggressive behavior, holding a woman underwater for more than 30 seconds and lunging at people as he lay on a catwalk at the pier.

Some Molokai residents held a protest on Oahu last year asking for KP2 to be returned to their island.

Federal officials say the public should avoid contact with monk seals and never feed them.

A nonprofit group called Hawaiian Monk Seal Response Team Oahu is raising money to bring KP2 back to Hawaii. Its website is hmsrto.org, Schofield said.

"The plan is to get him back to Hawaii someday," he said.

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This update was written by Gary T. Kubota. You can write to us at What Ever Happened to ..., Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-210, Honolulu 96813; call 529-4747; or e-mail cityeditors@ staradvertiser.com.






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