Ho’ailona — the Hawaiian monk seal unofficially adopted by the people of Molokai before being removed by NOAA officials in the fall of 2009 — will be returning to Hawaii today, according to reports from Hawaii News Now.
Originally labeled KP2 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Ho’ailona will arrive at the Waikiki Aquarium this afternoon to make his permanent home, said a news story on KHNL-TV. The Waikiki Aquarium is the location where, in October of 2009, Walter Ritte and other Molokai activists held a sign-waving protest of Ho’ailona’s removal from the Kaunakakai Harbor.
The monk seal pup was released in Kalaupapa in December of 2008 after being abandoned by his mother shortly after birth on Kauai and hand-raised by wildlife experts. By March 2009, Ho’ailona had migrated to the south shore of Molokai where he was observed in the Kaunakakai Wharf area frolicking with swimmers and paddlers.
NOAA officials met with the Molokai community in October 2009 to discuss keeping him on Molokai if the human interactions would stop. Shortly thereafter, at least two swimmers had their skin broken by Ho’ailona and many others had been nibbled. These types of dangerous interactions would only increase as Ho’ailona became sexually mature, said David Schofield, marine mammal response coordinator for NOAA.
When NOAA scientists removed Ho’ailona it was with the intention of reintroducing him to the wild. However, NOAA discovered that he had become overly habituated to people instead of seals, and veterinarians determined he developed cataracts in both eyes resulting in impaired vision.
To protect Ho’ailona — as well as the public that was interacting with the seal around Kaunakakai Harbor — he was taken to the University of California in Santa Cruz. For the past two years he has been under the expert care of several marine mammal scientists and veterinarians from around the U.S.
Ritte and other Molokai residents lobbied to have a tank built on Molokai for Ho’ailona’s return. But after the successful cataract surgery at UCSC, it appears as if Ho’ailona, which means message of the sea, will spend his remaining years at the Waikiki Aquarium.