Monk Seal Ho`ailona Returns to Hawaii

It was “welcome home” last week for the young Hawaiian monk seal named Ho`ailona, also known as KP2, that made Molokai his home in early 2009. Ho`ailona returned to the state after spending about two years at the University of California, Santa Cruz, participating in research that has helped scientists better understand the species. 

Ho`ailona was flown back to Hawaii last Tuesday on a Coast Guard C-130. He will live permanently at Waikiki Aquarium, though he will remain in quarantine until December or January to make “sure he’s eating and adjusting well to new environment,” according to David Schofield, marine mammal response coordinator for the National Marines Fisheries Service (NMFS). 

Diane Pike, Molokai marine mammal response team coordinator, was one of a small group present to help unload Ho`ailona. 

“He made the eight-hour trip from Santa Cruz in great shape and did not look in the least bit stressed,” said Pike, via email. “We kept him cool with water sprayers while he was blessed and then loaded him onto the truck that would carry him to the Waikiki Aquarium…”

Ho`ailona was abandoned by his mother on Kauai in May, 2008 when he was newborn. Found and raised by NMFS scientists, he was later released in Kalaupapa, but soon made his way to Kaunakakai Wharf. He became friendly with people, often swimming with children. Officials worried that as he reached sexual maturity, his play would become rougher and potentially dangerous. The young seal was also declared blind after being diagnosed with cataracts, and was removed from Molokai and transported to California. 

There, Ho`ailona took part in ground-breaking research that studied Hawaiian monk seal diving behavior and metabolism that will assist biologists in their effort to recover the endangered species. 

Although scientists considered surgery to remove his cataracts, Schofield said Ho`ailona didn’t undergo the procedure during his stay in California because “he does have some vision and responds to vocal commands.”

Schofield said the seal’s return to Hawaii has not yet been celebrated publicly, but there may be a larger homecoming when his quarantine ends. 


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