The Odyssey of KP2: An Orphan Seal and a Marine Biologist’s Fight to Save a Species is a story not about one woman’s commitment to not only marine life and to the environment, but about life’s inclination for not only survival, but about passion and about meaning and about its ability to protect itself. In this story, KP2 ensures the existence of his own species by bonding with humans and Dr. Williams ensures that she will not be the only one fighting for not only the lives of endangered species, but the lives of all living creatures.
Life is tender, life is fragile, but life is meaningful, and it is meaningful because of the connections we are able to make with each other, whether it’s human to human or animal to animal or spirit to spirit. That is the message of this book, the story of a Hawaiian seal named, KP2, that was abandoned by his mother at birth and taken into custody by group of biologists, notably Dr. Williams, who became his surrogate mother. More than a story about a seal and about a biologist, this story tells us what people can do to make sure life endures.
Through KP2, Dr. Williams learns a lot about the meaning of life, the way it can ebb up and down, high and low, how it’s unpredictable yet playful too, just like the seal’s temperament. While she’s a qualified scientist, it turns out that she doesn’t know as much about life as she thought she did. In fact, although she doesn’t realize it, Dr. Williams is about to learn how hard it can be to experience life through another set of eyes.
This is also true about Beau, a colleague of hers that is equally as interested in the seal and about how he lives, learns, plays, and loves. In fact, he was mesmerized by KP2 and wished even to experience, directly, what the seal experienced, through play and through day-to-day life, including sounds of the seal’s environment, in essence, to be like him without getting into the water. He wanted to be able to emulate this in a lab atmosphere for the purposes of science and more than that, for the purpose of connecting life with life.
When Beau sees KP2 at the bottom of the tank, the reader is able to see his intense reaction and the attachment that he has formed to the seal and this also illustrates the power of life and its commitment to enduring as well as the process vice versa: the animal is also attracked. As Beau recalls, “with his interminable attraction humans, KP2 grew both in stature and in favor among his caretakers”.
This was the part of the text where the reader is really introduced to the personality of KP2 and the various idiosyncrasies that animals are capable of showing (KP2 stacks his toys at the bottom of the pool) and how they, too (like humans), are capable of expressing various forms of life and individuality, another key component that people share with animals.
Dr. Williams mentions believes that all animals are smart, they’re all sacred, and they’re all capable of expression in their own way, whether we realize it or not. The way we measure IQ, she argues isn’t relevant with animals, but as we’ve seen it demonstrated in humans, it is not the only measurement of intelligence, since there is far more to it, as is true with all animals, she argues. For example, the relationship her dog had with KP2 was something that science could not explain.
After several of months of care by Dr. Williams and the other staff, KP2 was released back into the water on his own, but because of the bonds he had formed with the people, he craved their attention and kept coming back to the shoreline. Because he had bonded more with humans than with seals in his early life, the choice was made to return him to custody, both for his happiness and for his survival. It was then realized he would be the answer to the “survival of [the] entire species”.
This book and the work of Dr. Williams and of her colleague Beau remind us of the values of animals, how they contribute to our lives on an emotional level but also how they have a key place in the environment, but more than that, they remind us of the value of life, in all its various forms, whether it be a seal or algae. This is why it is so important to not let any breed of animal (or of life) get to a point where it is almost extinct or endangered.
People like Dr. Williams and others spent lifetimes making sure this doesn't happen because they realize that “best laid schemes of mice and men, often go awry.” What can we do about this? We need to pay more attention, we need to realize that life in all its various forms is valuable, but that without commitment, without researchers, without grants and other sources of funds, we can not protect life, whether it is the seals’ lives or whether it is a part of the land that is being depleted of resources. Therefore, the solution lies in realizing the connection all forms of life share.
We also need to be aware of and gather knowledge about the animals that are currently being threatened and consider what we can do to help. In my experience, it can be as little as volunteering with an organization or as much as choosing a line of work to invest in a breed in danger. The world needs all of its parts to be able to operate and for everything to work hand in hand the way it’s supposed to. Making sure all species have the right to exist is a part of protecting the planet, and I believe we all have a responsibility to do so.
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