12/17/2012 12:40 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Hand of Man: A True Christmas Story


I lost my faith in mankind long ago while I was a pre-med student at Rutgers University. Interning at an inner-city hospital there seemed no end to man's inhumanity; it seeped from the E.R. to the Maternity Ward to the Morgue. I discovered that I had no stomach for gunshot wounds, rapes, and other man-made abuses, so I turned to studying wild animals. Despite the rawness of nature, the world made more sense in the oceans, the forests and the mountains. Yet, it was from the wilderness through one animal -- an endangered seal named KP2 (Kauai Pup 2) -- that my faith in the hand of man was restored.

KP2 came into the world in the usual way of Hawaiian monk seals, slippery, wet and sliding unceremoniously onto a tropical beach from between his mother's hind flippers. For reasons unknown, he was abandoned, attacked, and shunned by his species. By the Law of Nature he should have died on that sandy beach on Kauai. Instead human hands picked his tiny body up, brushed off the sand and carried him to safety. Instead of letting Nature takes its usual harsh course, his rescuers said, "We will help this one seal".

The U.S. Coast Guard volunteered a plane to fly the abandoned, abused seal from Kauai to Oahu where the Waikiki Aquarium said, "We will feed this one seal." When KP2 grew strong enough he was transferred to a large ocean pen at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Station where he played in the surf under the watchful eyes of the U.S. Marines. "We will protect this one small seal," they had said.

KP2's first Christmas present was the island of Molokai where he was released back into the wild on a windswept beach with other seals. But he refused their company. Swimming hundreds of miles along the giant sea cliffs of the island he sought out the children of Kaunakakai Wharf, who gladly said, "We will play with this one seal." So they swam and surfed and laughed together for an entire summer.

In time cataracts would begin to rob KP2 of his sight, and demanded medical attention. However, there was no place in Hawaii for treatment. "I will provide a home and hospital for this small, sick seal," I said. Thus, KP2 became the first Hawaiian monk seal pup to make a remarkable trans-Pacific journey to the mainland U.S. and my marine lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

For two years the hands of volunteer college students and scientists helped him to heal. In return he taught us about the nature of monk seals and ourselves.

KP2's second Christmas was in the company of his trainer who said, "I will spend my holiday caring for this seal". She drew up a white, plastic Adirondack chair at lunchtime, and in the warmth of the seal's enclosure ate a turkey sandwich in silent thought. KP2 inch-wormed his wet body toward her, sniffing her pant leg in his usual greeting. Slowly the trainer opened a cooler and offered a herring, but the seal was not interested. Rather than eat or sunbathe under the heat lamp or nestle in a pile of his toys, he crawled under the trainer's Adirondack chair. Doglike, the seal stayed curled at her feet, content in the simple human contact and sounds of the Pacific Ocean in his tiny ears. Since the beginning, all the little seal really wanted was the touch of human hands and the comfort that could lie within them.

Back in Hawaii that same Christmas Day was heralded, like two millennia before, by the arrival of a mother. Early in the morning, RK22, the seal mother who had so abruptly abandoned KP2 two years before, returned to the location of his birth. RK22 didn't call for him or make any other sound. She stayed on the Kauai beach for several days, rolling in the warm sand that had once been mingled with their scents. She nuzzled the ground and sniffed the air with no other seals in sight. She watched and she waited. Then as mysteriously as she had appeared, she slipped back into the water.

The many hands of man working together had saved RK22's pup when she could not. And that was miracle enough for me to believe in mankind once more.

This holiday season, take a hand in yours and change the world for good.


Adapted from The Odyssey of KP2: An orphan seal, a marine biologist and the fight to save a species.