Seattle girl raises funds for monk seals

Tom LaVenture

The Garden Island

PO‘IPU — A 10-year-old girl from Redmond, Wash., gave $130 to the Kaua‘i Monk Seal Watch Program on Friday in Po‘ipu.

Kate Companion said she is fascinated by the Hawaiian Monk Seal, in part because it is unique to the islands and also because it is endangered.

Companion said she was inspired by the 2011 American Girl of the Year doll, Kanani of Kaua‘i, and its accompanying book by Lisa Yee about Kanani’s life on Kaua‘i and her desire to help Hawaiian monk seals.

The Kanani character is her age, she said, and that gave her the idea to share her passion for ecology, animals and especially the Hawaiian monk seal.

“I said, ‘If she can sell shaved ice to help the monk seals, then I can do something,” Companion said. “Only, I used lemonade and hot chocolate.”

It was the girl’s grandmother, Joanne Guiberson of Bothell, Wash., that made the call to the let the organization know about Kate’s wish to donate the funds. Otherwise, it may have been an anonymous donation during a visit to attend a wedding.

The brief ceremony had been planned for Po‘ipu Beach Park on Friday afternoon. However, as if on cue, a 2-year-old monk seal named T-12 decided to rest on the nearby Shipwreck Beach.

The event was moved to the new location and gave the ceremony more meaning. Companion said she saw the animal move to slighter higher ground once the waves got too close.

This is Companion’s second trip to Kaua‘i. During their last trip last year, they saw a monk seal.

On Friday, she was with her parents, Craig and Kate Companion, her younger brothers Colin, 8, and Cavan, 4, her grandparents, Joanne and Mike Guiberson, and her uncle and aunt, Kevin and Brigit Guiberson.

 Her father said she is very independent and passionate about her causes. Instead of presents for her 7th birthday, he said she asked that donations be made to a local school for homeless kids.

“I love education and I believe that all kids should have a good education,” Companion said.

“She has a good heart,” her father said. “She loves nature and always wants to help. You should have seen her selling hot chocolate outside during January in Seattle.”

At home, Companion is also passionate about the outdoors and wildlife. She enjoys hiking at Mt. Rainier National Park and the Cascade Mountains in Washington.

“I would like to be a wildlife biologist and a park ranger,” she said.

The envelope containing the cash donation had a string of tallies crossed out until it read $130. Giving might be its own reward, but her new Monk Seal Watch friends showered the girl with gifts, including a small monk seal stuffed toy.

“She got inspired and has raised money through lemonade stands and contributions from her own allowance,” Timothy Robinson, a Watch Program coordinator.

“This little girl may have been inspired by our efforts to save the seals, but in turn, her own efforts inspire us 10 fold. It’s a perfect circle,” Robinson said.

The donation inspired by Yee’s American Girl series is significant for many reasons, said Robinson. Lee based her characters in part on himself and other program members from interviews and relationships.

The central character in the book, Kanani, has since become the largest selling doll in the American Girl series, he added.

Kate said she was excited to learn that several of the volunteers she met had inspired the characters in the book. Kanani is a 10-year-old Hawaiian girl, who has a passion for protecting monk seals. She sells shaved ice treats to raise money for a nonprofit group that protects the endangered the sea mammal known only to the Hawaiian Islands.

The books and related merchandise are made available in catalogs that reach 41 million homes, he said. If just 10 percent of the readers come across a monk seal, then the awareness has grown more than could ever be hoped for in traditional outreach and education.

Visitors don’t just ask about monk seals when they encounter them on the island, Robinson said. They are now coming off the planes and asking where they are, and especially young girls.

There are around 40 Hawaiian monk seals that make Kaua‘i their territory, while many others visit while foraging in waters around the islands. They grow up to nearly 8 feet in length and weigh around 600 pounds.

The Kaua‘i Monk Seal Watch Program’s mission is to sustain and enhance Hawaiian monk seals and their habitat by providing management and monitoring, community participation, promoting environmental education and cultural awareness.

“When we get children involved like this, it tells us that our outreach and education program is reaching not only people on Kaua‘i, but is getting people concerned all over the world,” said Donna Lee, treasurer for the program.

A rapid response group of volunteers is on call to rope off areas of beach where monk seals come to rest. They also work with authorities to respond to monk seals caught in nets or in other distress.

The organization target visitors and schools that are anxious to learn more about island wildlife, and especially the endangered monk seal. This May, the Kaua‘i Monk Seal Watch Program will begin weekly presentations at the Grand Hyatt in Po‘ipu.

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or


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