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FAQs about the Hawaiian Monk Seal "Hō'ailona" (a.k.a. "KP2")

 


KP2 at Waikiki Aquarium
Hō'ailona "KP2"
Photo: Waikiki Aquarium (NMFS Permit No. 15453)

Background
The Hawaiian monk seal "Hō'ailona" (pronounced "Ho-i-lona"), also known as "KP2" from his scientific field identification number, was first found on the island of Kauai in May 2008 after being abandoned by his mother when only a few days old. He was brought to a NOAA facility on the island of Oahu for rehabilitation with the goal of returning him back to the wild. During his time at the facility, Hō'ailona developed an eye condition that impaired his vision, which was treated by a team of veterinarians and ophthalmologists. He was eventually deemed well enough to be released and was taken to the island of Moloka'i in December 2008. NOAA scientists fitted Hō'ailona with a small tracking device to help monitor his movements and assist with locating him for follow-up health assessments.

In the fall of 2009, it became evident that Hō'ailona was not acclimating well to life in the wild since he was interacting with humans instead of other seals. NOAA scientists removed Hō'ailona from the wild again with the intention of relocating him to a remote area with other seals; however, he had become too habituated to people, and veterinarians determined he developed cataracts in both eyes resulting in impaired vision. NOAA made the decision that Hō'ailona's chance for survival in the wild was extremely poor and made arrangements for him to be cared for long-term at appropriate facilities.

Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species with approximately 1,100 individuals remaining in the wild, and the information learned from this case will help future recovery efforts for the population.

 


KP2 hawaiian monk seal
KP2: Hawaiian Monk Seal
(Monachus schauinslandi)
Photo: Trevor Spradlin, NOAA (NMFS Permit No. 932-1905/MA-009526)

Why was "Hō‘ailona" removed from the wild?
Hō‘ailona (a.k.a. "KP2") was removed from the wild and placed back in rehabilitation for two reasons:

  • He did not acclimate well to life in the wild and exhibited strong behavioral problems which posed a risk to not only his health and welfare, but also posed a risk to the safety and wellbeing of the public; and
  • He has impaired vision stemming from a previous eye condition which may necessitate additional treatment.

The behavioral problems exhibited by Hō'ailona were the primary concern and stemmed from him being habituated to humans. He repeatedly approached people in the water or at the beach and unfortunately this behavior was reinforced by people who encouraged him to interact with them. Although it may have seemed innocent and harmless to play with or feed Hō'ailona, those actions prevented him from learning how to survive on his own in the wild and interact with other monk seals instead of humans. Since Hō'ailona is a young animal, this was a critical developmental time period for him to learn necessary skills for living on his own. In addition, the behaviors he exhibited with the public as a juvenile would become dangerous as he matures into an adult. There are well documented cases of people being bitten or injured during interactions with adult monk seals--these animals can grow to over 7 feet long and weigh more then 400 pounds.

The status of Hō'ailona's vision is also a concern as he has impaired sight stemming from a previous eye condition. He has been evaluated and treated by leading marine mammal veterinarians and ophthalmologists, and the experts have confirmed he has bilateral cataracts.

Where did Hō'ailona go when he was removed from the wild?
Hō'ailona was transported to the University of California in Santa Cruz (UCSC) under the expert care of several marine mammal scientists and veterinarians from around the U.S. He was sent to California to maximize the number of experts available to work with him. Since monk seals are a critically endangered species, knowledge gained from treating Hō'ailona and monitoring his growth and physiology will assist conservation efforts for the overall monk seal population. In Santa Cruz, Hō'ailona was evaluated by marine mammal scientists and veterinarians and underwent a series of diagnostic tests and procedures that helped determine his health condition and provided important information that can be used to help monk seals in the wild. When he finished his treatment and research program at UCSC, he was moved to the Waikiki Aquarium in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Why was Hō'ailona not initially kept in Hawaii?
Hō'ailona was not kept in Hawaii initially because there were no facilities available for long-term care or study of monk seals undergoing rehabilitation at the time he was removed from the wild.

What is currently happening with Hō'ailona and where will he be in the future?
Since November 1, 2011, Hō'ailona has been living at the Waikiki Aquarium in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is housed with another male seal, Maka onaona. The Waikiki Aquarium is partnering with NOAA Fisheries to conduct outreach and continue studies necessary to gain important information on monk seal health and disease. Hō'ailona has found a permanent home at the Waikiki Aquarium.

Can the general public currently visit Hō'ailona?
Yes, the general public can visit Hō'ailona at the Waikiki Aquarium during their normal business hours. Visit the Waikiki Aquarium's web site for more information This link is an external site. on hours of operation and monk seal viewing opportunities.

What is the current status of the monk seal population?
Monk seals are a critically endangered species worldwide. Historically, there were three species of monk seals:

  • The Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi), which is found in the Northwest and Main Hawaiian Islands, has a population of approximately 1,100 individuals remaining;
  • The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), which is found in the western Mediterranean Sea (primarily off the coasts of Greece and Turkey) and in the eastern Atlantic Ocean (off the coast of Africa and on the island of Madeira), has a population of approximately 500 individuals remaining; and
  • The Caribbean monk seal (Monachus tropicalis), which was found in the Caribbean Sea, is now extinct after centuries of human exploitation and hunting.

The dire status of the two existing monk seal populations has necessitated international conservation initiatives. NOAA scientists and managers are working with experts around the world to help recover monk seals, and the information gained from treating and monitoring Hō'ailona's development will help future conservation efforts for the species.

Where can I get more information about Hō'ailona and other Hawaiian monk seals?

Where can I find more information about monk seal conservation efforts?

Updated: February 19, 2013

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