Sea Life Park welcomes special Hawaiian monk seal home


Kekoa means “warrior” in Hawaiian.

And that warrior – an endangered Hawaiian monk seal known as KE18 – lived for about a decade at the Long Marine Laboratory at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Now he’s back and lives at Sea Life Park in Waimānalo on O’ahu.

Photo: Courtesy of Sea Life Park

Kekoa, a 9-foot-long male, was taken from the wild years ago because he attacked baby monk seals and young females. The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world, with only about 1,400 remaining in the wild. The loss of any young or female is detrimental to the survival of this species.

At the Long Marine Lab, he participated in a major study on hearing and communication in the monk seal. He was surprisingly gentle and friendly, contrary to his reputation in nature.

“Kekoa was so destructive to the people, there was little choice for him,” said Terrie Williams, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and postdoctoral researcher at the lab, in a story for the university magazine in 2016. “I agreed to take care of him without being seen. I was nervous about it, but my fears were unfounded. Kekoa is one of our best research partners and has been great in our education programs, where he is now a star, teaching children about marine conservation.

He’s back in O’ahu and guests can meet this famous monk seal starting Saturday, October 2 at Sea Life Park. Annual pass holders will have the opportunity to meet the seal the day before the park opens.

Students and scientists were able to gather valuable information from Kekoa, who was trained to participate in hearing tests both underwater and on land, which could one day help protect future generations of monk seals. Although Kekoa can never be released into the ocean, his journey and contributions to marine life education and monk seal conservation will continue at Sea Life Park.

“Our tradition of providing a sanctuary for non-releasable and endangered animals is something that excites us at Sea Life Park, and we are honored to work with like-minded partners in these important conservation efforts,” said Executive Director Valerie King. “Kekoa will be an unforgettable ambassador in helping our guests learn more about these magnificent marine mammals and the challenges they face.”

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