Ask students to read the book The Odyssey of KP2 and while reading, use the Odyssey of KP2 student sheet to answer questions about the content of the book.
When KP2 was born, his mother abandoned him. Describe what might have led his mother to leave him to die. Scientists at the time were unsure why RK22, KP2’s mother, had left him alone on the beach, but most likely it had to do with the aggressive male monk seal (not his father) who wanted to mate with her. She followed this male into the water, leaving KP2 on the beach. At the time, survival of the fittest seemed the probable answer. The animals’ food supply might have been insufficient for both the mother and pup, and lactation has a large impact metabolically on the mother. So if her habitat offered less food, she would focus on her own survival.
In the days following KP2’s rescue, his veterinary team realized he didn’t know how to eat. He was starving. What interventions did the vet team use to save this pup and help him get back to his native waters? What were some consequences of these interventions? They fed him “salmon shakes” to provide the nutrition he needed for developing a healthy body, brain, nerves, and eyes. To do this, they had to put a tube down his esophagus into his stomach and feed the shake through a syringe. This process meant hands-on interactions from humans, and as a consequence, KP2 grew accustomed to humans and the attention he received, which he loved. Ultimately, this love for humans made releasing him back in the wild dangerous for him and humans, given how much he would weigh in adulthood. Another consequence of his rescue stemmed from the nutritional shakes. Although necessary for his survival, the high-calorie shakes made him fat. He hadn’t learned how to swim, something his mother would have taught him. When he tried to swim, he couldn’t dive because his fat kept him on the surface.
Before KP2, no Hawaiian monk seal had been transferred out of the Hawaiian islands, and the Recovery Team along with other agencies that work with marine mammals had reservations about moving him to Williams’ lab in California. What were some of the concerns people had? Hawaiians felt the seal belonged to them and needed to stay in Hawaii. The Recovery team had reservations about moving an endangered species. Bureaucrats in Washington considered euthanizing KP2 because male monk seals outnumbered females, and to survive, the species needed more female monk seals to birth pups.
The Hawaiian Islands are the most geographically isolated communities on earth, which has resulted in some inhabitants having naive immune systems. What does this mean historically for monk seals usually found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and for KP2 once he was moved to Williams’ lab in Santa Cruz, California? KP2 was exposed to dangerous viruses and bacteria on the mainland and this meant he had to be quarantined until his immune system had time to adjust to mainland microorganisms. This also protected other marine mammals at the lab from any dangerous microorganisms KP2 would have brought with him from Hawaii.
What are some causes for the declining population of Hawaiian monk seals? Marine pollution, naive immune systems, changes to the quality of habitat, competition with fishermen for fish, shark attacks, and aggression among and between male and female monk seals.
Before students start reading Part III, students should use their student esheet to watch a video of Williams reading pages 202-204 of the book. The chapter is titled "Mother's Day."
Why was it important for Williams and her team to collect data on KP2 while he was an adolescent? More than 80% of monk seals in the wild die during adolescence, and Williams suspected this is due to changes in their habitat. Seals need a huge number of calories to grow and thrive, so the scientists wanted to monitor KP2’s resting metabolism. Williams wanted to learn in particular the minimum number of fish it took to sustain a monk seal so that she could match the monk seal’s metabolic needs to the fish available in the Hawaiian Islands.
KP2’s love for people and being at the center of lab activity made it difficult to follow the strict biological conditions Williams needed to collect the data. What did she and her team do to create the right conditions for collecting the data? The two trainers on Williams’ team—Beau Richter and Traci Kendall—were experts at training marine mammals. Their skill and expertise in reading animals enabled them to work with KP2 and train him so that they could measure, probe, and calm him enough that Williams could attach the necessary equipment and get the data she needed.
Williams said she has learned to rely on animals to lead her science instead of the other way around. What did she mean by that? KP2 loved the team and other people with whom he came into contact, and he would express excitement at seeing them and seemed eager to please when being trained. However, monk seals are aloof by nature, so being as social as KP2 was led Williams and her team to explore this behavior and how it might influence the species’ survival. Beau and Traci, the mammal trainers who worked with Williams in her lab, spent countless hours training KP2 so he could comply with the behavior she needed him to exhibit so that she could measure, monitor, probe, and medicate (his eyes), among other things. The three of them had learned how to “read” animal behavior so that they could investigate their subjects’ behavior.
Williams’ research led her to conclude that Hawaiian monk seals will go extinct if humans didn’t agree to share the ocean with them. What led her to that conclusion? Hawaiian monk seals cannot survive in cold water below 60° Fahrenheit because, as Williams and her team learned, KP2’s metabolic rate rose rapidly in cold water, which means his body would struggle to balance the loss in calories he would have to spend diving deep to catch cold-water fish. Williams concluded monk seals are biologically locked into a tropical paradise because they have short, small intestines (36 ft.) compared to the long guts of killer whales (177 ft). It is the act of processing food in long guts that provides the warmth killer whales need to survive in cold, deep waters.
The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is one of the largest conservation areas in the world. The lead scientist for the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program under the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and a team of federal and nonfederal scientists proposed moving young monk seals into this conservation area. Why? Almost all the monk seals born the same year as KP2 died, and a National Geographic Crittercam worn by several wild seals showed the seals using their heads as battering rams to butt rocks and coral to scare small fish out of hiding where they could be snatched up by the seals. However, predatory sharks and ulua fish were eating the fish before the seals had a chance. Consequently, the juvenile seals were starving, and their bodies were washing up on the beaches.
What was missing from this government plan, and what was the resistance to it? The locals from the main Hawaiian Islands resented the government and its scientists telling them “what to do.” They also said the monk seals would compete with the fishermen because they claimed the seals ate exorbitant amounts of fish. The locals also felt the government was playing Mother Nature.
Terrie Williams described herself as a reclusive scientist who preferred to work outside of the public realm. She had worked in isolated settings, like the Antarctica, and in the confines of her lab in Santa Cruz, California, where “data were just data.” Why did her research with KP2 require her to step into public, social, and cultural arenas, and how did she cross that bridge? Williams felt the locals had to understand the science behind her research if they were to understand how the entire tropical ecosystem was affected by the survival of the monk seal. The Hawaiian culture is an ancient culture where nature and culture are the same. Williams decided she could best convey the work she was doing with KP2 if she used storytelling to communicate with the people. To do that, she created a Facebook page with KP2 doing the talking.
What about the history of the monk seal led Williams to conclude that the monk seals were neither invaders of the Hawaiian Islands nor gluttons as some locals had claimed? The first humans are believed to have arrived in Hawaii between C.E.300 and 800. Fossils of monk seals show they arrived 4 to 11 million years before that, so it’s the humans who invaded the monk seal’s territory. As for being gluttons, Williams’ research found that monk seals’ feces fertilize phytoplankton, which provides critical nutrients that help support the entire ocean ecosystem.
Williams and her team had hoped KP2 could be released back into the waters of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Why did they alter that plan, and what happened as a result? KP2 had cataracts, and even if he had surgery, he would have limited eyesight. He would be able to make out movement and distant objects, but this would mean, over time, he would be less able to find food in the wild waters around Hawaii. This condition was caused by a lack of proper nutrition at birth. In spite of the salmon shakes his caretakers fed him, he needed his mother’s milk for proper development. In addition, the debris from fishing gear, particularly large trawl nets and fish nets, were of great danger to him because he wouldn’t be able to see them, or he could ingest them while feeding on fish. To fight this pollution, Williams had KP2 launch a campaign against ocean pollution on his Facebook page.This teacher sheet is a part of the The Odyssey of KP2 lesson.