Eight Molokai residents, federal marine fisheries officials and scientists said aloha to the beloved Molokai Hawaiian monk seal "KP2" at a blessing at the Waikiki Aquarium in Honolulu on Wednesday afternoon.
KP2, who captured the hearts of many on the Friendly Isle while he frolicked at Kaunakakai Wharf, will be soon heading to California to receive surgery for his cataracts.
Last month, the endangered monk seal was removed from the wharf after he was becoming a threat to people. He bit and even held people underwater, in what was actually play for the seal, said David Schofield, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marine mammal response coordinator.
He said NOAA received complaints about the 121-pound seal's behavior, as he became accustomed to human interaction at the wharf and approached people.
Moving the nearly 2-year-old seal to Oahu angered some Molokai residents. They named him Hoailona, which means a special seal with a special purpose, said Molokai resident Walter Ritte. They wanted the seal that educated the people and played with their children to stay on Molokai.
Some residents complained that NOAA did not give them notice about moving KP2. But Schofield said there might have been a misunderstanding because NOAA officials notified the public about the move in July.
But on Wednesday, Schofield said scientists and residents came together and brought closure to the issue.
"They are in such trouble," Schofield said of the Hawaiian monk seal. "We don't have time to bicker."
Schofield said there are 113 identified Hawaiian monk seals in the main Hawaiian Islands, but there are probably a "little more than that" in the wild.
Ritte also said the blessing was successful as the Molokai community was involved and the proper Hawaiian protocols were followed in the ceremony.
He said NOAA now realizes that it cannot just "bully" around the community if they want to save the Hawaiian monk seal.
"You have to work with the community," he said. "All in all, we mended a lot of bridges."
Ritte said that the community told NOAA officials that they would like Hoailona to return to Molokai.
He said the community also will do more outreach to schools and the community about the type of seals that affected their lives.
Ritte said a touching moment in the ceremony was when 11-year-old Molokai resident Kalaekahi Poaha said goodbye to the seal with whom he spent time over the summer swimming at the wharf.
Waikiki Aquarium Director Andrew Rossiter said KP2 is a "unifying spirit," and now everyone is on the "same page."
He called KP2 very friendly and a "showstopper."
"We wish him the best for the future," Rossiter said.
In May 2008, KP2 reportedly was picked up by NOAA officials after his mother abandoned him on Kauai.
After being rehabilitated for seven months, he was released at Kalaupapa, Schofield said.
He said Kalaupapa has the most important "pupping" beach in the main Hawaiian Islands. It is secluded and seems to be the place where seals go to nurse. There also are tidal pools where fish get trapped, so there is food for the seals, Schofield said.
KP2 did fine in the wild, but in March he was discovered at Kaunakakai.
Residents said KP2 was moved back to Kalaupapa but swam back to Kaunakakai.
"People started feeding him and playing with him," Schofield said. "Over time he grew stronger."
He said people who thought they were experiencing an aggressive seal were actually just experiencing seal play, as "seals play rough."
Community members were warned about interacting with KP2, but by then it was too late.
When NOAA removed him, they found out he had cataracts.
Schofield said a cause for the disease could be that the orphaned seal did not have his mother's milk and probably "something didn't agree with him" in the rehabilitation setting.
He said KP2 will never be able to return to the wild, but NOAA officials hope to bring him back to Hawaii.
"He's going to be dependent on people," Schofield said.
Rossiter said he would not be able to accommodate KP2 permanently at the aquarium, because it only has one enclosure tank, and they already have two monk seals.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.