HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Marine mammal experts once considered KE-18 to be such a dangerous Hawaiian monk seal it appeared they had no choice but to euthanize him. Six months later KE-18 has been captured and is headed for life as a research subject and aquarium attraction.
KE-18 is known to have attacked at least 13 pups and juvenile seals at Kure and Midway Atolls.
"In the next 15 to 20 years there may be a total of 34 pups that are born in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands," said Charles Littnan, lead scientist with the Monk Seal Research program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "So when you start talking about the removal of one pup or two pups, or three pups - you are talking about substantially impacting the ability of this population to perpetuate," Littnan said.
In August 2011NOAA was prepared to euthanize KE-18. Leaving him in the wild endangered the species. And there were not any facilities available where KE-18 could live out the rest of its life. NOAA sent a team to Kure to humanely kill KE-18, but he eluded capture.
Since August space has opened up at a research facility at U.C. Santa Cruz in California.
Saturday, January 28, a team flew from Oahu to Midway Atoll where KE-18 had been spotted. By noon the next day the menacing monk seal had been captured. He was loaded onto a Coast Guard transport plane and flown to Honolulu.
The 450 pound 9-year old monk seal is in quarantine at the Waikiki Aquarium.
"He's on a diet of herring right now," said Dera Look, Assistant Marine Mammal Response Coordinator for NOAA.
"He's acclimating very well to his environment," she said. "The first day he was very cautious, very wary. We got in the tank and he was at the other side of the tank immediately. Today we got in there and he, you know, the crowding board was sitting to the side ready to be used but he was very comfortable with us in there."
The plan is to move KE-18 to U.C. Santa Cruz in late February. It is the same facility where another Hawaiian monk seal, KP2, lived for two years before being brought back to Hawaii and a permanent home at the Waikiki Aquarium.
While in Santa Cruz, KE-18 will serve as a research subject.
"He will be vaccinated. You know we have concerns about disease outbreaks in a very small population that could wipe out seals, so we'll be able to work with him to verify that these different vaccines work," Littnan said.
They will also check testosterone levels hoping that may help explain KE-18's aggressive behavior.
After about two years in the lab, the plan is move him to Sea Life Park on Oahu where he could live another 20 years or more.
NOAA cautions that a lot can happen in the next two years to alter its plans, but right now KE-18 appears headed for two years of scientific work and then stardom.