Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I thought I'd send along some pictures of KP2. KP is a sixteen-month-old monk seal pup who was born on Kauai and immediately rejected by his mother. He was raised from his first day by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the Marine Mammal Center. At eight months he was released into the wild, and a few months later, in February this year, showed up at the Kaunakaikai Harbor on Moloka'i, and made it and its people his own.
From everything I've read and heard, KP thinks he's a person. He swims alongside adults out for their morning exercise, hops onto boggieboards, and frolicks with the kids in the special little area roped off for swimming. And it's been great fun until recently. As he's grown, has begun to molt, and is nearing mating season, his "play" has become rough. He holds people with his flippers and pulls them underwater or pushes them under and holds them there with his ever increasing weight. He's no longer little, weighing in now at an estimated 175 pounds, but it seems that someone has forgotten to tell him that. He's doing what seals do, the trouble is, he's doing it with humans.
The people at the NOAA think he's become a danger, and has got to go, though two earlier attempts to relocate him (to the other side of Moloka'i where it is more remote) resulted in him returning a few days later to the harbor. They are talking about moving him hundreds of miles away this time, maybe to one of the small, uninhabited northern islands of the Hawaiian chain, or, possibly, even to some kind of marine animal park.
People are understandably sad and upset at the prospect of KP being moved. (Well, most people, that is. I've been told that fishermen hate seals, and I heard that one fisherman was even seen kicking him.) Many believe that because he chose Moloka'i, he belongs here. The plight of KP and the people who love him has gone national, with CBS Nightly News running the story, along with the Wall Street Journal, front page. KP can even be seen on YouTube!
The other problem is that monk seals in Hawaii are endangered. So there's all kinds of bureaucratic red tape involved. In the meantime, while the powers that be are making their decisions, a group of locals have been taking turns "babysitting" KP. The idea is to make sure that he doesn't injure anyone and that no one injures him. I was lucky enough to be invited to go along with one of the volunteers, and last Sunday afternoon, spent three hours in his company (out of the water, thank you very much!) at the Kaunakaikai Harbor.
Sitting there with the hot sun on our backs and the wind howling, catching sight of the occasional sea turtle popping its head above the surface, being so close to this beautiful, gentle-seeming creature, I got it that this story is both sweet and sad. Bittersweet, I guess you'd say. Being raised by people, he obviously wants the company of people. But also obviously, he is, first and foremost, a wild animal. What he wants and what so many of the islanders want does not seem like a match made anywhere, even in heaven, even in heavenly Hawaii. It seems, from all perspectives, a lose-lose situation. Except, of course, that KP, part of an endangered animal species, is alive and thriving after being abandoned by his mother.
The good news/bad news is that the wheels of government grind slowly. For the past two weeks I've been hearing that KP is going to be moved any day now. It hasn't happened yet. Lucky for me, I got to go and hang out for an afternoon with an endangered monk seal pup. Lucky, too, for the people who have come to love him... who any day now, it seems, may well be called upon to love him even enough to let him go.
But then again, isn't that what love is all too often all about? Isn't that, in fact, the highest expression of love?
Which doesn't mean it doesn't hurt like hell.
With aloha, from Moloka'i