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Too-Friendly Seal Now Famous

KP2 becomes a media sensation.

KP2, the friendly seal of Kaunakakai Wharf, shields his eyes from media attention while enjoying a lazy afternoon lounging on a boat. Photo by Catherine Cluett.

Editorial by Catherine Cluett

We have a celebrity in our midst. KP2, a young Hawaiian monk seal dubbed in a Dispatch story “the too-friendly seal,” has been hanging out at Kaunakakai wharf since the spring. He has made lots of friends, and regularly plays with the neighborhood children in the water. News spread, the nickname stuck, and now KP2 has made national media headlines.

The Wall Street Journal picked up the story of the adolescent seal that seems to prefer human company to that of other seals, running it on their front page last week. Their headline? “This Baby Seal Is a People Person, And That Makes Him Dangerous.”

Since when are seals considered people? Sure, some might say KP2 comes close, but the headline makes KP2 sound more like a psycho-killer than a playful, young animal. The story goes on to highlight reports that KP2 has held swimmers under the water, and says “KP2 risks loving people to death.”  “This Baby Seal Is a People Person” also notes that actor William Shatner was “assaulted” by a similar seal, known as RO42.

It’s no wonder Gawker.com, a parody news website based in New York City, had fun with the story. Their headline humorously reads, “Baby Seals: The Silent Killer.” The story cuts right to the point: “The innocent civilians of the Hawaiian islands are being stalked by a bloodthirsty baby seal, which circles a lagoon plotting how to kill humans twice: First, with cuteness; then, with drowning.”

CBS News, AOL News and KGMB9 are just a few of the other media outlets that joined the KP2 frenzy. Maybe it takes a little seal to put Molokai on the national radar. But ironically, the news comes just as KP2 may be relocated from the island he calls home.

NOAA biologist David Schofield worries that when KP2 reaches sexual maturity, he will become not only larger and bolder, but may become aggressive toward humans. Specialists say they are trying to do what is best for both the seal and the humans. But many have come to love the seal and appreciate the awareness and education about the species he has brought the community.

Molokai resident Eric Demmers posted a video of his dog playing with KP2 on YouTube. The video has been reproduced on variety of news sites. But unfortunately, while the clip has brought even greater fame to KP2, dogs are one of the Hawaiian monk seal’s greatest health threats, transmitting diseases that can be fatal to seals.

Hawaiian monk seals are an endangered species, with less than 1200 individuals living today – and only in Hawaii. It is against the law to approach or disturb them. A team of biologists and volunteers worked to educate the public about keeping their distance from KP2. But what do you do when a Hawaiian monk seal comes up and hugs you?

Abandoned by his mother on Kauai at 24 hours old, KP2 was found by NOAA specialists. He was raised in captivity for eight months before his release in Kalaupapa last November. A few months later, he appeared at the Kaunakakai Wharf.

In June, NOAA transported him back to Kalaupapa, hoping he would socialize with other young seals and “stay wild.” However, in just two days, KP2 had made his way back to the wharf. Now NOAA is making plans to relocate the seal farther from home. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and a sea life park are two options being discussed. No time frame has yet been set for the seal’s move, but it’s certain that the nation will be keeping an eye out for the too-friendly little seal.

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