The rare monk seal named "Hō'ailona" or "KP2" is leaving Santa Cruz on a jet plane Tuesday for his native Hawaii, after two years being helped and studied by University of California marine biologists.
The seal was treated for an eye disease and will be held in captivity in Hawaii, but shown to visitors. There are only 1,100 monk seals left in Hawaii, and the number is dwindling by 4 percent a year, according to a UCSC release.
There were no places on the Islands for similar treatment. Also, the seal had been abandoned by its mother and was seeking out humans on the beach. That, and the eye condition, made it impossible to release him to the wild.
"We are thankful for our partnership with UCSC to learn from Hō'ailona and will apply that knowledge to the conservation of monk seals worldwide in Hawaii and in the Mediterranean," said Dr. Teri Rowles, DVM, the Coordinator of NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, which currently authorizes the research and care of Hō'ailona.
"We greatly appreciate the public's concern and support for Hō'ailona in particular and for monk seals in general, and Hō'ailona will teach us a great deal about monk seal biology and health."
Scientists studied the effects of various water temperatures on the tropical mammal to see how vulnerable they may be to climate change.
Read more about the seal here.