Weekly Summary--Week 6 (04/08/07-08)

A major breakthrough

Last week, we confirmed that in the evening, some of the honu from the Honokowai ohana were foraging in the shallows not far to the north of us. This week, we decided to investigate further. We took the kayak out about an hour before sunset and travelled even farther north. We'd had reports that honu were feeding along the shoreline up there.

When we arrived, Peter jumped in the water with the Canon digital camera. Almost immediately he began seeing honu--large honu. Adults. We'd long known that small and medium-sized honu foraged right outside our condo, but we'd always wondered where the big ones fed. Now we were finding out.

Unfortunately, the Canon wasn't really up to the task. There wasn't enough light and it was hard to see what the camera was aimed at, resulting in a lot of shots of... turtle shells, corals, water, whatever. Everything but turtle profiles. Peter could recognize several of the Honokowai ohana on sight alone, however. The few blurry images he got that we could analyze showed us three Honokowai honu--and two strangers!

Blurry, but recognizable! 2002 Turtle 177, a male.

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The next evening, we switched tactics. We repeated the snorkel, but this time with the video camera. This got somewhat better results. Preliminary examination of the the tape we've recorded on three separate snorkels confirms that many of the Honokowai ohana start their evening feeding along the shoreline a few minutes' paddling to the north. This supports the data we helped George Balazs collect in previous summers using time/depth recorders.

We've wondered for years about the foraging part of the Honokowai ohana's kuleana. We plan to continue our evening snorkels to identify more honu. Since we're also finding a few strangers, it will be fascinating to see what emerges once we've collected a few weeks of data.

The vigil

We mentioned last week that we'd spent two evenings in Lahaina in the hope of seeing hatchlings emerge from 5690's most recent nest. Mary Jane Grady had visited the nest that Thursday and had seen several brand new honu flap their way down the beach.

We set up shop Saturday evening but no luck.

Ursula returned the next night and still no change. Surely if any other hatchlings had struggled to the surface, the sand above the nest would shift, sink, anything--change somehow.

By 10:30 with nothing new, Ursula abandoned the vigil because she no longer believed there were hatchlings down there. She felt that she was just watching sand. Little did she know...

Thus ended August 1st.

We can sleep when we're dead.

Over the years, we've worked with George Balazs on various aspects of sea turtle this-and-that. "This-and-that" ranges all the way from serious philosophical debates on sea turtle conservation to the contents of their turds! The same range as, say, Big-L liberal Democrats to neo-con Bush Republicans!

We know just how long and hard Mr. Honu works. Works early. Works late. Works weekends. Works through holidays. Yet he rarely complains about being tired. We suspect this is because he believes being tired is simply part of his job description.

George has many sayings--personal mantras of sorts--which he freely shares with us. Certainly #1 is this Torch of Inspiration: "Think of the honu first."

George also has an annoying saying, almost always delivered personally at the end of a long tough day together ("long, tough day" for us is a typical day for George). We believe it keeps him going, like a verbal espresso shot of Caffeine: "We can sleep when we're dead."

Ursula doesn't like that Balazs Saying. While she acknowledges its truthfulness, she'd prefer to sleep while still alive. Sleep to her is a form of entertainment what with the splendid dreams she has. Ursula believes that: "You only dream when you're alive."

Scenario. We've been with George all day--meaning a typical George Balazs Day.

We mention that we're tired. George usually ignores this. Then we complain we're tired. He'll suggest that a future good night's sleep will cure our ills. Then we lay down a furtive series of complaints that we're tired, at which point George will assure us we'll stop whatever we're doing in less than an hour.

Last, we'll whine that we're pooped, drained and crabby and hallucinating about pillows and sheep.

George can't ignore whining. He hates whining, especially about being tired. His automated response is: "We can sleep when we're dead."

"We can sleep when we're dead." we're certain is how George manages to keep the schedule he does. Manages to collect the data. Analyze the data. Write the papers. Collect more data. Live and breathe sea turtles.

He simply tells himself, "I can sleep when I'm dead."

Enough background info.

The 26 hour day Part the First, or, "We'd rather sleep when we're alive."

We certainly will remember August 2. Peter awoke just before 3 AM and woke Ursula up too. He said he couldn't sleep. So Ursula suggested we both go down to Lahaina to check on 5690's nest to see if any hatchlings were emerging.

Peter was incredulous, but thus began our August 2nd.

A thirty second look at the nest revealed absolutely no change in the prior two days. We know this because we spent four hours each of the two nights before at the nest site, hoping for hatchlings to emerge. Nothing then either. Depressing. (More about this later.)

So instead of going back to bed like sensible human beings, we decided to get out the kayak instead. The idea was to see if the honu who fed in the evening up to the north might still be there in the morning. (Remember that the Honokowai honu are primarily nocturnal feeders.)

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Ursula points to the setting full moon.


The setting moon was still full, lighting the water beautifully. The winds had dropped, the paddling was easy, and we reached our destination in no time. We were there, but apparently, the honu were not.

We floated around for a while, watching for honu heads to break the surface. None did. We waited some more. Nothing. Finally, we paddled further north, keeping our eyes peeled. There wasn't a single honu anywhere to be seen.

Our patience did not go entirely unrewarded, however. Around 6 AM, the sunrise lit up the sky in magnificent fashion. Our only regret was that the honu weren't there to share our delight.

The sunrise lit up the sky in magnificent fashion.

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We knew where the honu would be headed, however. From previous kayak excursions, we had learned that they would begin showing up out at Reef 2 starting around 7:30. We paddled back home, got some provisions, and went right out there to wait.

The water was still calm, but the weather was unsettled. A string of rainshowers was blowing down the windward side of Molokai, the remains of Hurricane Darby. For us, the result was a series of spectacular rainbows, sometimes doubled, and often unimaginably intense.

As the turtles arrived and began taking their first breaths of the morning, we got a unique treat: honu at the foot of the rainbow!

Honu at the foot of the rainbow.

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By the time we had filled the Canon's storage card, it was just past 8 AM. We'd been on the kayak for four hours, but the day had just begun. We had to prepare for a dive. We had work to do.

The 26 hour day Part the Second, or, We dive!

Three temperature loggers had arrived in the mail. These loggers have been placed underwater here since 1999, giving us five years of data. We planned to return a logger to Zeus' Lair at Reef 2.

A temperature logger for Zeus' Lair.

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With mission accomplished, Ursula managed to grab an hour's nap after the dive, Peter wasn't so lucky. He still couldn't sleep.

The 26 hour day Part the Third, or, The unkindest excavation

By now it was getting close to sunset. The nest we'd been watching, number 3, was about to be excavated. Of course we had to be there.

Up to now we'd always looked forward to excavation of 5690's nests. They'd become routine, one following the other every fourteen days or so. We've come to regard Glynnis and Skippy, who conduct these events, as rescuers.

Every single excavation has freed hatchlings from the sand. At sunset, all join in happily as the hatchlings are gently lowered to the ground and allowed to crawl the beach and into the ocean.

It's really quite special.

Susan Scott, in a recent Ocean Watch column in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, wrote about the unfairness of nature. Quite simply she stated that, "Nature sucks."

Nature really sucked Big Time at this most recent excavation. When Skippy and Glynnis began digging, it didn't take long for them to come upon hatchlings. The audience was delighted for it meant another rescue.

Sadly, it soon became clear they were dead. There were seven in all--dead, mere inches below the sand's surface. The same surface we'd been watching not change for two evenings!

These seven, perhaps hatching from eggs at the bottom of the nest, didn't reach the surface in time for a night emergence and with the rising sun, waited for another night.

Tragically, the Lahaina heat is both fierce and cruel. As close to the surface as they were, the sun essentially baked them. Dehydrated. Developed for 54 days, struggled up and then... never felt ocean.

Nature sucks all right.

Nature isn't about Survival of the Fittest either. If you are one of the first eggs dropped, you're also down the Deepest! It's often Survival of the Lucky--as in, near the top of the pile!

Glynnis and Skippy did rescue three hatchlings. Lucky Ones.

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Two of the Lucky Ones scoot down the beach.


On the drive back, Ursula commented to Peter, "You know, you really have to wonder just how many hatchlings die under the sand at East. They usually don't excavate and I bet there are plenty who cook in the sand just like that."

"I prefer not to think about it," Peter said.

As the sun was setting we ate a quick dinner, checked the beach at our condo for fishermen tracks (yes, fishermen tracks,a long story...) and confident that there were none, we strapped our kayak to the car and returned to Lahaina.

Our long day was not yet over.

The 26 hour day Part the Fourth, or, 5690 nests again: #7

5690 was due to nest again. Just to be safe, we decided to patrol the beach in case she chose to crawl early--and August 2nd would be early. As we hauled our kayak up to where 5690 had her other nests, we were alerted that she had already crawled up the beach, but had already returned to the ocean!

Just then, Mary Jane called by cell to let us know that she was on the way.

The kayak never got wet. We dropped it at the edge of the sand and waited. By now, we figured 5690 wasn't about to crawl up somewhere else.

It didn't take long before she re-appeared at water's edge. At about this time Mary Jane showed up. So everyone was in place.

It was great to see Mary Jane again. Great to have company. Especially "company" that could be relied on to do the work so we could snooze in the kayak under a Lahaina full moon. We had, after all, been up since 3 AM.

At about 9:25 pm, 5690 cleared the beach and headed inside the ropes where she'd laid her previous nests.

FFWAAAAP FFWAAAAP FFWAAAAP. Sand flung. Dug body pit. Shifted to a slightly different location. FFWAAAAP FFWAAAAP FFWAAAAP. More sand flinging. Dug another body pit.

By now it was midnight. Mary Jane wasn't feeling that well. She also sounded very tired. We assured her that we'd stay for the entire time. For as long as needed. We wished her a careful safe drive home.

FFWAAAAP FFWAAAAP. Flinging of sand! We turned our attention back to the shadows. When 5690 nests we keep a respectful distance. We're content to sit far away and see only sand flung about. As long as we hear FFWAAAAP FFWAAAAP we know the lady is digging, and we give her space.

FFWAAAAP FFWAAAAP FWAAAAPPPPPP. Peter went over to take a look. My, but how far down she was! She'd actually taken the two body pits and converted them into one huge, deep hole! Peter returned to the parked kayak as Ursula lay under a blanket snoozing.


Finally--silence. Had she begun the egg chamber? Thankfully, she had.

The chamber itself took about a half hour to scoop and form. Now we were certain this night would result in egg-laying.

About this time, it was a surprise and delight to see Dale and Joan show up. In 2002, 5600 had nested by their house. We talked story a bit and we're grateful for the photo they took of us "keeping watch" from our kayak, as you can clearly see here.

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Illustrating the versatility of the kayak, or at least, our kayak.


At 1:31, 5690 began laying eggs. Once she entered her egg-laying trance, we could cautiously approach. Respectfully leaning on the stone wall, we-all observed the first few eggs drop. Ursula took a photo of Peter pointing to the rock pattern of the wall, which should be helpful come excavation time. Thereafter, we gave the mother honu her space. As Joan wisely commented, "After all, if you were delivering, wouldn't you want privacy?"

Clearly Joan is a mother too.

Documenting the location of nest 7.

Photo taken after 5690 entered her egg-laying trance.

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Egg-laying took about 15 minutes and then came the all-important cover-up. 5690 takes at least two hours to fulfill this part of her reproductive obligations. We figured we'd be home by 4AM. In other words, awake for 26 hours.

We bid Dale and Joan a good night and retreated to the kayak. Ursula looked up at the full moon and thought how much more magical The Moon can be when a mother honu labors in its shadows.

A cough from under a nearby tree quickly popped that warm thought balloon. It was a woman's cough. Ursula glanced over and saw someone under a blanket. Another cough. Someone else was also sleeping on the beach that night and it clearly wasn't by choice. Someone who really should see a doctor about that cough.

This is the United States, however...


That woman really needs to see George W. Bush about enrolling in an HMO... and Ursula fell asleep. Well, we don't really know when Peter fell asleep (he now admits that he might have "dozed off") but we do know that we're embarrassed by it.

The entire point to staying from crawl-up to crawl-back is to ensure 5690's safety. We felt that we'd let Mary Jane down. Worse, that we let 5690 down.

Still. A honu is a honu is a honu. It wasn't like 5690 needed directions to find the ocean!

Ursula would've slept the night in the kayak but Peter insisted on going home--to sleep in a proper bed. So we packed up our gear, heaved everything into the car, and left.

No coughing at that point. Guess the lady finally fell asleep...

At 4 AM we finally hit the pillows and plummeted unconscious. Peter was even too tired to snore.

Never a crazier week

August 2nd was just the Monday. Here's what we did the rest of the week.

We returned a second temperature logger to The Rock.

For the first time ever, we managed to take GPS readings on all the major areas of our dive site. Peter snorkelled while Ursula followed by kayak and recorded all GPS data. We now have positions all the way from North Ridge to South Park and everything in between.

As we already described, we continued snorkeling the foraging site to the north to determine just which of our Honokowai ohana feed in this area. We now know that some of our honu are regulars at this Pterocladiella buffet. For example, Nui, known to us since 1990, was feeding there on three consecutive days. We've learned so much, and identified so many turtles in the few snorkels we've made, that next week we plan to dive there. One of us on SCUBA, the other following along in the kayak. Clearly, there's a lot to be learned from observing the foraging aspect of honu biology.

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Nui, looking for supper--or breakfast, depending on your point of view.


We dived Kuamo'o and placed the third and last temperature logger at The Toe. Since we now know that huge winter swells roll through, we took special care to place the device in the lee of the prevailing waves.

There's more.

They're baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack. Well, one is.

The Kuamo'o dive would've been rather uneventful (if seeing lots of honu can ever be regarded as "uneventful") save for a special sighting.

At the Kapalua side of The Aquarium, we noticed a large turtle with a dark squeaky clean shell. On this shell were the white numbers 327. We knew then we had our first sighting of a female returned from the 2004 nesting season.

Female Honu 327 had nested at East Island, French Frigate Shoals, and had gotten back safely, attended by a full complement of remoras.

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327 and escorts.


We checked our identification database and found the 327 turtle did not match any of our existing profiles. Whether she is a resident to the area or had simply shown up on her way home elsewhere, we don't know.

We have reported the sighting to George Balazs and Turtle 327 becomes the First Wahine of the Season. We, of course, await the return of the females from our ohana. We especially hope to see Tutu before we leave.

Like Nui, we've known Tutu since 1990. It would be good to know that she reached home safely.

...and if that wasn't enough

We also exercised.

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Ball crunches. Eegh.


Wall pushups. Argh.

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We've got to stay ready. After all, next week 5690's fourth nest is due to "erupt" and it will require babysitting. After that?

Will 5690 nest a record eight times?

We'll certainly be there one way or the other.

A fond aloha

One person who won't be around should Maui Girl/5690 break her own personal best is Mary Jane Grady. Mary Jane is due back to the Mainland to continue her studies. We mentioned when 5690 last nested, Mary Jane felt poorly. It turned out she had the flu and it hit her rather hard. She is the second person to fall ill during a night watch. Certainly not a satisfying way to end her final week in Paradise...

Mary Jane? Mahalo nui loa for the care you gave 5690 and her hatchlings. It was an honour to meet you and we look forward to seeing you again next summer.

Study hard. Follow your dreams!

Warmest aloha,
Peter and Ursula

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Mary Jane chats with Peter at the excavation of 5690's nest 3.


2004 Zeus report

No sighting. There's hope, however. We are keeping our fingers crossed that Zeus might be dining to the north. Maybe next week.

Week 7 Summary
Summer of '04 at Honokowai
Turtle Happenings
Who's Who Underwater at Honokowai
Table of Contents
Last modified 04/08/14
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