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Vision keeps monk seal in captivity


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POSTED: Tuesday, October 20, 2009

KP2, the first Hawaiian monk seal pup reared by humans from birth, and who was found “;playing rough”; with people on Molokai, has lost his sight and will not be re-released into the wild, said a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official.

“;He is going to stay in captivity in an aquarium or oceanarium for the rest of his days,”; said David Schofield, NOAA marine mammal response coordinator.

KP2 was taken “;from the wild in the nick of time,”; Schofield said, adding, “;He likely would have been prey for sharks or become entangled in a net. We probably saved his life.”;

Schofield said KP2's deteriorating vision may have caused him to stay around Kaunakakai Pier on Molokai because he knows the area and knows where the fish are and where to haul out.

It was during an examination at the Honolulu Zoo that NOAA personnel learned KP2's vision had greatly deteriorated.

A veterinary specialist in seal and sea lion eyes, Dr. Carmen Colitz, was brought in and found the 17-month-old seal's vision is 80 percent impaired. She said a nutrition deficiency due to his failure to receive colostrum, a rich fluid produced by a mother shortly after birth, likely led to his developing cataracts.

KP2 was abandoned after birth May 1, 2008, by his mother on Kauai, and taken into captivity when 24 hours old. He was successfully raised in captivity and released into the wild Dec. 15 in remote Kalaupapa, Molokai, where there are a number of seals.

Schofield said they have learned much about the Hawaiian monk seal from their experience with KP2.

NOAA officials thought KP2's eyes would “;heal in the wild better than in a rehab setting”; and that he could still forage in the wild, which he did, Schofield said.

KP2 had endeared himself to Molokai residents when the then-100-pounder began frequenting Kaunakakai Pier in late March, swimming with children and adults, even jumping on surfboards.

NOAA personnel removed KP2 on Friday from Kaunakakai Pier, where the now 170-pound pup had begun exhibiting what they con-sider dangerous behavior toward humans, including biting and briefly holding a woman underwater. But some Molokai residents believed KP2 should have remained on Molokai and that his behavior did not endanger people.

NOAA officials are in talks with Sea Life Park to try and keep KP2 in Hawaii.