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Looking Out for Ho`ailona

Community Contributed by Terrie M. Williams and Ho`ailona’s team

I was excited to hear about the video project by Ho`omana Hou School to raise awareness about Hawaiian monk seals through a story about Ho`ailona.  This young seal has been an inspiration to so many of us.  Certainly no one knows this better than those of us in California that have given our heart and soul to the care of this special seal for the past 18 months.  For this reason my team and I were disheartened by the video story line that appears to cast us as the Californians from which Ho`ailona must be rescued (Molokai Dispatch “Seal Play”, May 17, 2011).

Like the Hawaiian people, scientists are often stereotyped and mischaracterized.  As opposed to white lab coats my research team goes to work in flowered board shorts and flip-flops.  Instead of needles and forced experiments, we request animals to help us discover what they need to survive in this rapidly changing world.   Our goal is singular and unwavering; we believe that knowledge is the key to preserving the oceans and its animals.   

The article requested personal stories about Ho`ailona.  Here is my story about his California scientist experience. At a time when there was no place for Ho`ailona in the islands I provided a home for a special orphaned seal, opening my doors without hesitation to help one small member of an endangered species.  It was an enormous risk as I had no research grant for this endeavor.  Instead I relied on creativity, sweat and tears.  

My team’s time with Ho`ailona has spanned two of his birthdays.  During that time Beau, Traci, over 25 student volunteers from the University of California-Santa Cruz and I have fed and cared for him as he grew from puppy to young adult.  We medicated his eyes and created special housing to improve his vision.  We have nurtured him, provided for his every need, educated him and loved him.  We have worked with him to understand his amazing biology.  We did all of this for only one reason – to help this one special seal and his species.

To ensure that the children of Molokai remembered Ho`ailona we provided updates through a website and conversations with him through Facebook. We organized a shared beach cleanup between elementary schools in Molokai and California in recognition of their shared young passion for healthy oceans.  But I also recognized that Ho`ailona was truly a native son of the islands.  To that end I have been working tirelessly with NOAA-NMFS to bring him home back to all of you.   A goal I hope to achieve within the next six months.

I truly believe that the elders of Molokai were wise when KP2 was blessed with the name “Ho`ailona.” This seal does carry a message: that all of us – islanders and mainlanders, school children and adults, fishermen and scientists – must live together and share the oceans if we are to survive.  And if only one child in the islands is one day inspired enough by Ho`ailona’s story to grow up to be a scientist that studies the oceans and its seals, then his remarkable journey through my lab will have been worth the risk.

For more information, visit http://www.monkseal.ucsc.edu/KP2/Home.html

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