Weekly Summary--Week 6 (02/08/10)

Hitting the wall

This week has been a blur, with day melting into night into day and with dives melting into hatchling excavation melting into nesting patrol melting into coma.

Last week we reported that eggs from the second nest of Wonder Turtle 5690 had hatched. A couple days later, Glynnis Nakai and Skippy Hau excavated Nest Two to free any remaining hatchlings. Glynnis rescued one--that's all there was. That's a Good Thing, especially since they didn't find any dead hatchlings. It meant that the others had all gotten out on their own. Still, even one tiny turtle makes digging in the sand up to your armpits "worth it."

5690 returns to nest for sixth time--not

We learned our lesson with the first excavation. No sooner did Glynnis and Skippy excavate Nest One than a few hours later, Mother Turtle 5690 plowed on through it to lay her fifth nest. No one expected a fifth.

So this time, we did expect a Sixth, and we expected it early. When we got reports of tracks along the beach indicating several false crawls, George Balazs made plans to be on the beach the following night.

What a night it turned out to be! The turtle false-crawled up and down the beach. At one point she emerged from the water directly towards us. She began digging so close by that we had to move to avoid the sand she flung our way. Then, for whatever reason, she quit digging and headed back into the ocean, to emerge here and there again until around 3:30 AM, when George called it for the night.

He gave us a few hours of sleep before he called to say he was ready to dive with us at 11:30.

The Dive

It was nice to get into the water after a night on the beach. The only purpose to the dive was to attach TDRs (Time/Depth Recorders) to three different turtles. It's actually easy to attach TDRs to turtles. The hard part is finding the right turtles so you can retrieve the TDRs one day!

We chose three of our most reliable regulars. With Wana, we had the added advantage of a turtle who'd "donated" a fecal pellet for analysis. George also attached a TDR to Ho'oulu, a honu we've known since 1992 and at 111 cm, one of the largest. The last TDR was placed on a male, 1996 Turtle 8.

That's when the fun started.

As George was busy attaching the device to the male's hind flipper we had company. Our large tagged female U164 (known since 1995) decided to land exactly where we were!

George directed all his attention to attaching the TDR to the male's right hind flipper.
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Suddenly U164 (flipper bottom right) bumped into Peter, who was videotaping.

Peter was knocked aside, and U164 now aimed for George.
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She zeroed in on her "target"...

...and landed.
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Completely unaware of the new arrival, George continued to attach the device.

Eventually George realized something unusual was up, so he turned...
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...and was surprised to see a turtle instead of Peter!

Always the consumate professional, George immediately noticed this turtle was "wearing" a tag...
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...and spared no time reading it. Of course U164, in a cooperative mood, let him.

George then took out his measuring tape and, well, measured her.
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Then George placed his hand on her shell. She appeared to enjoy his attention. They both posed for this photograph.

Back to the beach (again) to wait for 5690 (again) and another sleepless night (again)

We got there well after sunset. All three of us (GHB, PAB, and UKB) were tired. We were so tired we couldn't even summon the energy to complain about how tired we were. For all the false-crawling 5690 did the night before, now she showed no sign of even being around.

It was 11 pm before the first false-crawl, a teensy U-turn at the water's edge. This was the first indication we had that 5690 hadn't "left the building" with Elvis. Then nothing. The night wore on and still nothing but fatigue. The three of us took turns nodding off.

At 1:30 we were ready to call it for the night, but we decided to walk the beach one more time. It was then that a man came up to us and said he'd been awoken by a turtle digging and throwing sand on him. By the time we got to the spot 5690 was crawling back in the water again.

We felt we had no choice but to stay longer.

It was only at 3 AM that 5690 finally found a spot to her liking and half-heartedly began digging. We groaned in unison, figuring that this was another waste of time because a) she didn't seem enthusiastic, and b) this was a long way away from the part of the beach where she'd made all of her previous nests. The sand must have been just right for her, however, because soon her enthusiasm grew as did her sand-flinging.

Flippers and feet, flippers and feet. Soon she'd made an impressive body pit.

Feet feet feet more feet. She'd dug a hole for the eggs.

Once she entered her nesting trance, George videotaped much of the proceedings while we took photographs. As 5690 was pre-occupied laying eggs, we lay down directly in front of her. We wanted to photograph her "portrait." As Ursula lay in the sand focusing the camera, 5690 lifted her head and exhaled

Ursula could smell the sweet smell of limu (seaweed) on 5690's breath. It smelled like sea lettuce, but of course she couldn't be sure. All she knew was that a sea turtle had breathed on her and it was a wonderful experience.

With the egg-laying over, it was now 5690's task to cover the eggs. Already exhausted from digging and dropping eggs, the turtle now flung large quantities of sand behind her to cover her clutch. With each flipper fling she'd strike her plastron.


Then she'd rest. By now it was well past 4 AM, and the sky was growing light in the east. George and Peter sat in the sand, heads down, nodding off as 5690 laboured on. When they raised their heads it was Ursula's turn to "rest her eyes."

As totally wasted as we were after two nights on the beach, it was certain 5690 was more fatigued and drained. After all, this was her sixth nesting of the summer! We stayed until she pulled herself towards the ocean. As water splashed her she appeared to revive.

Here came the amazing part. Just as water covered her completely, with only her transmitter showing, a shooting star cut a path directly in front of her. It was uncanny. A shooting star pointing the way out past the breakers.

Sea turtles are magical and spiritual enough without that happening too!

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Sea turtles are magical and spiritual

Week 7 Summary
Summer of '02 at Honokowai
Turtle Happenings
Who's Who Underwater at Honokowai
Table of Contents
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