Spotlight on Science Writers: Terrie Williams

Spotlight on Science WritersA select group of authors who have won or been finalists for the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books have been invited to write or record an introduction to one of their books. We have suggested a few guidelines, but the format and content have been chosen by each author and will be appropriate for their book's intended audience. Science NetLinks will include related classroom resources appropriate for students and educators at the end of each Spotlight on Science Writers post. You can read all the posts in this series here.

While KP2 was a young pup at the University of California-Santa Cruz, he taught many young scientists about the biology of Hawaiian monk seals. In this picture he shows students one of his “thermal windows” (his armpit) where he is able to lose excess body heat when he becomes too warm. This is one of the ways that monk seals avoid overheating in the warm waters of Hawaii. (Photo courtesy of Terrie Williams.)

Terrie M. Williams on The Odyssey of KP2:

Imagine if you received an email asking you to save a tiny, nearly blind seal pup that had been abandoned by its mother; now imagine if that seal pup was part of a highly endangered species, one of only 1100 of his kind left on earth. Would you say “yes”, or would you hope that someone else would come to his rescue? 

Against all odds, I did the unthinkable and said, “Yes, of course I’ll help!” In doing so, KP2, the Hawaiian monk seal pup, embarked on an amazing and unprecedented journey. He would travel by Navy military aircraft across the Pacific Ocean to my marine laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was the youngest monk seal to ever come to the mainland United States. At the university, he taught us about his biology and what is necessary for his species and other marine animals to survive in the oceans today. Most importantly, through his antics and insuppressible spirit, he taught all of us the importance of living life to its fullest in the company of friends. 

This book is KP2’s remarkable story. I wrote it so that everyone who ever thought about being a marine biologist, as well as those that might want to become one in the future, will know what a wonderful, difficult, adventurous, scary, and rewarding life it is. As a marine scientist, I am always in the company of my friends: the seals, dolphins, sea otters, and whales of the oceans. 

In this video, KP2, who is nearly blind, demonstrates how he is able to use other senses to quickly maneuver around his pool and locate toys when asked to “retrieve.” Clearly, monk seals use multiple senses beyond vision to navigate through their environment.  

Terrie M. Williams is the director of the Marine Mammal Physiology Project at the University of California at Santa Cruz and has been studying large mammals for more than 30 years. She obtained her Ph.D. in environmental and exercise physiology from Rutgers University (1981) and completed her post-doctoral studies at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Research Department of the San Diego Zoological Society. A co-founder of the Center for Ocean Health at Long Marine Lab, she has studied dolphins, whales, and seals in the wild and at aquariums, most recently focusing on the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Her research expeditions have taken her around the world to study the survival strategies of Weddell seals in Antarctica, Steller sea lions, sea otters, and killer whales in Alaska, as well as cheetahs, lions, and elephants in Africa. With her team, she is working with aquariums, zoological parks, research scientists, and wild animals across the globe to ensure healthy environments for both people and wildlife.

Her book, The Odyssey of KP2: An Orphan Seal, a Marine Biologist, and the Fight To Save a Species, won the 2013 SB&F Prize for the Best Young Adult Science Book.

Going Further

  • Book/Author Resources
  • Marine Biology
    • In this SealCam Science Update podcast, you'll hear about a daring group of underwater photographers who wear nothing but a layer of blubber.
    • Terrie Williams is the director of The Marine Mammal Physiology Program, where they are working with marine animals that are trained to voluntarily cooperate in the data collection process, in order to better understand what it costs these animals to survive in the ocean.
  • Endangered Species
    • In the Everglades Pythons Science Update podcast, learn how a study of the stomach contents of non-native Burmese pythons living in the Everglades shows how many different species the pythons have been poaching.

Related Educator Resources



Jan Williamson SUBMITTED ON

I am a retired elementary teacher and am thrilled ot hear this news and both my husband and myself have been HMS volunteers since the beginnings in Hawaii about 7 years ago Kolohe being our first pupping event . I now go to schools in Hawaii to teach students about the monk seals with a friend Liz Weske and we have developed a curriculum very interactive to spread the news of our most precious monk seals. Please keep me in the loop as we continue to educate Hawaii's children Mahalo Nui Loa


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