Endangered Hawaiian monk seal is focus of Oct. 4 talk by biologist Terrie Williams

Annual Ken Norris Memorial Lecture at the Seymour Center features UCSC marine biologist Terrie Williams on the subject of her latest book, The Odyssey of KP2

terrie williams
Terrie Williams with KP2. (NMFS Permit #13602-01)

Marine biologist Terrie Williams will discuss her work with Hawaiian monk seals in the annual Ken Norris Memorial Lecture on Thursday, October 4, at 7 p.m. at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. Her talk, "Discovering the heart of America: An experiment in marine biology," is free and open to the public. Doors open at 6:30, and seating is limited.

"The monk seal is the most endangered marine mammal in U.S. waters. If we can ever make a difference in saving this endangered species, now is the time to do it," says Williams, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz.

Fewer than 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals survive in the warm waters of Hawaii. They are the only seals adapted to this tropical environment. Scientists predict that this critically endangered species could become extinct within 50 years, yet little is known about their physiology or their needs in a changing environment. Efforts to protect the seals and their habitat, coupled with emerging scientific research, may be enough to bring the species back from the brink of extinction.

Two years ago, Williams jumped at an opportunity to house and study a young Hawaiian monk seal pup that had been deemed unable to survive in the wild. She brought the seal, known as KP2 (Kauai Pup 2), into the marine mammal complex at UCSC's Long Marine Laboratory, where a special enclosure was built to create a "tropical" environment for him. The boisterous KP2 became a celebrity, charmed everyone around him, and gave scientists valuable clues that may help save his species.

The story of KP2's stay at Long Marine Lab, and how the young seal pup became an ambassador for his species, is the subject of Williams's latest book, The Odyssey of KP2. Understanding the biology of these little-studied animals may help scientists and policy makers determine how to save Hawaiian monk seals from a variety of threats, including plastic pollution, fisheries interactions, and a changing climate.

A book signing will be held in the exhibit hall after the lecture. Books are available for purchase in the Seymour Center's Ocean Discovery Shop.

For more information about this event, call Katherine Moore at the Seymour Center at (831) 459-4568.

Overlooking the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Seymour Center is a "living classroom" featuring aquariums, exhibits, touch tanks, whale skeletons, full-scale elephant seal models, the Ocean Discovery Shop, and unsurpassed ocean vistas. The aquariums and exhibits feature the everyday tools of ocean exploration and focus on research conducted by scientists locally and around the world. Interactive stations provide hands-on learning experiences, and docents lead tours and bring marine science to life. The Seymour Center is located at the end of Delaware Avenue in Santa Cruz.