The Odyssey of KP2
An Orphan Seal, a Marine Biologist, and the Fight to Save a Species
By Terrie M. Williams
(Penguin Press HC, The, Hardcover, 9781594203398, 304pp.)
Publication Date: July 5, 2012
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When a two day-old Hawaiian monk seal pup is attacked and abandoned by his mother on a beach in Kauai, environmental officials must decide if they should save the newborn animal or allow nature to take its course. But as a member of the most endangered marine mammal species in U.S. waters, Kauai Pup 2, or KP2, is too precious to lose, and he embarks on an odyssey that will take him across an ocean to the only qualified caretaker to accept the job, eminent wildlife biologist Dr. Terrie M. Williams.
The local islanders see KP2 as an honored member of their community, but government agents and scientists must consider the important role he could play in gathering knowledge and data about this critically endangered and rare species. Only 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals survive in the wild; if their decline continues without intervention, they face certain extinction within fifty years. In a controversial decision, environmental officials send KP2 to Williams's marine mammal lab in Santa Cruz, California, where she and her team monitor his failing eyesight and gather crucial data that could help save KP2's species.
But while this young seal is the subject of a complex environmental struggle and intense media scrutiny, KP2 is also a boisterous and affectionate animal who changes the lives of the humans who know and care for him-especially that of Williams. Even as she unravels the secret biology of monk seals by studying his behavior and training him, Williams finds a kindred spirit in his loving nature and resilient strength. Their story captures the universal bond between humans and animals and emphasizes the ways we help and rely upon one another. The health of the world's oceans and the survival of people and creatures alike depend on this ancient connection.
The Odyssey of KP2 is an inside look at the life of a scientist and the role that her research plays in the development of conservation efforts, bringing our contemporary environmental landscape to life. It is also the heartwarming portrait of a Hawaiian monk seal whose unforgettable personality never falters, even as his fate hangs in the balance.
Terrie M. Williams, Ph.D., is the director of the Marine Mammal Physiology Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a co- creator of the Center of Ocean Health. A wildlife biologist, Williams investigates how large animals, from elephants to killer whales, survive on our changing planet. She was named one of the 50 Most Important Women in Science by Discover magazine.
“[An] inspiring tale…brings home the message that we must ‘respect and cherish all animals as partners on this earth.’”
“Williams has crafted a fabulous biography of this singular animal, examining the surprising influence he has had since his birth just four years ago…Williams uses [her] autobiographical backdrop to great effect, mixing KP2’s story with her own to create dazzling portraits of a celebrity seal and a successful scientist.”
“[W]orth reading for anyone interested in marine mammal conservation or conservation in general.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“A charming blend of science and animal memoir.”
“A moving, action-packed account.”
“Williams carefully blends scientific record-keeping with engaging storytelling and personal reflections.”
“What a magical story! I’m amazed at how one little orphaned monk seal had the power to affect so many diverse groups of people, and to cause so much controversy and passion. He proved that one individual can make a difference in the world – even if that individual is an abandoned, helpless, blind seal, or an underfunded scientist with the guts to step in and help. This is more than just a cute story, although KP2 is quite a character. It has deep and far reaching implications about how we treat the world around us and about the importance of each creature, whether human or animal. This book is inspiring, touching encouraging, and fun, and I would recommend it to anyone.”
—Stacey O'Brien, author of Wesley the Owl
“Kudos to a devoted scientist who had to overcome a huge number of obstacles in order to achieve her goals. Whether the problems were with funding, red tape, or the need to maintain an emotional distance from an utterly appealing subject, Dr. Williams clearly succeeded, and her book is a testament to her resilience and scientific clarity.”
—Irene Pepperberg, author of Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence
“The Caribbean monk seal went extinct in the 1950s. The Mediterranean monk seal has a sword dangling over its head. The struggle for survival now shifts to Hawaii, whose unique monk seal faces an uncertain future. Terrie Williams has been in that fray, and brings us there too, in this touching and personal story with wisdom and insight.”
—Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and The View From Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World
“I am always looking for scientists who can bring us closer to the heart of the ocean and our place on the earth. Terrie Williams listens to her subjects and, through this tale, gets us in sync with a rare seal and the challenges that he presents.”
—John Francis, Vice President for Research, Conservation, and Exploration, National Geographic Society
“With clear-headed prose and bared-heart honesty, Terrie Williams shares the plight of a charismatic monk seal and his extremely endangered kin. Behind the saltwater glamour and the exotic locales, marine conservation is a daunting brew of politics and protests, joy and heartache, death threats and $30,000 electric bills. I found this book fascinating, inspiring, and deeply affecting.”
—Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Packing for Mars