July 18, 2012

Safe harbor for an endangered seal

By Terrie M. Williams
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KP2's life begins much as any other monk seal pup; after 10 months of gestation, the seal's mother crawls up onto a nursing beach on Kauai, and KP2 slides from between his mother's back flippers, still slippery and wet and covered in thick black fetal fur. As he begins to stretch out his flippers and get accustomed to his new world, KP2's world changes suddenly as a large male seal—perhaps his father—attacks the young seal pup, almost killing him. KP's cries to his mother for help and for food go unanswered for two days before a group of biologists from the Kauai Monk Seal Team rescue the young pup, whisking him off to a safe place and eventually to Molokai, where the growing seal can be weaned from his dependence on humans in order to be released again to swim with the whales and dolphins.

Working in Antarctica, marine biologist Terrie Williams receives an e-mail from the National Marine Fisheries Service asking if she would like to care for and observe an orphaned monk seal pup in her lab in Santa Cruz, California. Although she has a few initial reservations, especially concerning the cost of transporting the seal from Hawaii to California, she accepts the offer and her adventure with KP2 soon begins. She discovers that very little research has been done on the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals because of bureaucratic red tape. The same law that lists the seals as an endangered species also prevents humans from touching them. Since KP2 is in captivity in Williams' lab, however, she can study his species in detail and through understanding make progress in saving his species.

In her poignant, forceful and very often hilarious memoir, The Odyssey of KP2, Williams shares her attempts to avoid emotional involvement with the lovable seal as she tries to maintain proper distance from the creature in her scientific experiments. After two years of watching KP2 grow from youngster to mature adult, Williams recognizes that this playful monk seal—which is going blind—can never return to the wild, but she also realizes that he must be returned to his islands. The islanders happily greet the adorable and sociable KP2 as he enters his new home at the Waikiki Aquarium.

Even as her encounter with KP2 teaches Williams more about herself and her work, her inspiring memoir teaches us that the more we are able to read the world around us, the solutions for the preservation of the oceans and the conservation of monk seals and the remaining animals of the world will come naturally.

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The Odyssey of KP2

The Odyssey of KP2

By Terrie M. Williams
ISBN 9781594203398

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