Hoahele [1995 Turtle 28]

Fetches a 55K JPEG

That was then (inset, 1995) and this is the last time we saw her (1998).

Quickstats: Seen 1995, 1996 (61K JPG), 1997, 1998. Summer updates: 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004.

We first met this youngster in the afternoon of July 9, 1995. Our '95 fieldnotes simply state, "Very strange dive--young turtle made it all magic."

When playing back the video of our first encounter it is again remarkable how calm, trusting and playful she was right from the beginning. She showed no fear of us, allowed us to photograph and videotape her from up close. She'd hover in the current, flutter alongside us and over our heads, and swim back and forth between us, presumably to satisfy her curiosity.

After that first encounter she became a daily feature at our dive site. It is sometimes difficult to understand why some turtles flee and never fully acclimate while others treat you as long lost friends the moment you meet.

Either way, this youngster was fun to watch and full of spunk and character. She had the uncanny knack of selecting resting spots that were protected by damselfish or triggerfish. Frequently we observed an outraged fish flying at her face or nipping at her flippers--all to no avail. Turtle stayed put!

After spotting her for several dives we determined a name was in order. We decided to call her "Hoahele", Hawaiian for "fellow traveller."

Our 1995 photo records already had a red "T" (for tumors) beside her name. Hoahele already was showing the earliest signs in her eyes. Just by the posterior of her left eye, there is the tell-tale hint of white that signals the onset of fibropapilloma tumors. The tumor had yet to erupt, however. The turtle's right eye sported the same pre-eruptive coarsening near the outer canthus.

Summer 1996 Update

In the summer of 1996, Hoahele was quick to report in. We saw her on our second dive on July 2, 1996. Before we got close, we thought it might be Howzit, because she was in Howzit's favourite place.

It didn't take long to determine it was our fellow traveller, who now had unmistakeable tumors in the posterior of both her eyes. (For an illustration, see our Sickbay page Pathology: A Sample of Tumors at Honokowai, 1996.) Hoahele was also showing the salt and pepper markings that telegraph that there is more of the disease to come for this young turtle.

We have written about Howzit elsewhere on Turtle Trax. Howzit never showed up in 1996 and it was sobering to watch how easily Hoahele just slipped into Howzit's favourite spot--and Howzit's sleeping quarters under The Rock, too.

Over the years we have determined one disturbing trend regarding Green Turtle Fibropapilloma disease. The youngsters are hit hardest. No young Honokowai Turtle who has acquired the disease has ever recovered. We have yet to see a youngster live more than 3 years after acquiring the first signs of disease.

We expect Hoahele to be worse by 1997 as the disease works its evil with yet another unfortunate. We can't help but think of a conveyor belt where young recruits arrive at Honokowai, contract the disease within a year or two of settling into the area, and then steadily sicken and disappear.

Then another youngster shows up and the the cycle plays out all over again.

Summer 1997 Update

We sighted Hoahele but once on July 15th 1997. A combination of unlucky events meant that we didn't get the necessary left profile to confirm this turtle was at Honokowai that summer! Our video camera had been flooded and on this occasion Peter was carrying the still. We were both snorkelling towards our descent point when we saw Hoahele.

On the surface Peter managed only a distant photo of a retreating turtle. Ursula grabbed the camera, descended, and went after Hoahele. She got close enough to recognize Hoahele's distinct left profile, pressed the shutter--and got nothing. Peter hadn't had time to advance the film!

In the quick glimpse that we got, we saw that Hoahele's small tumor on her left front flipper had now grown to the size of a lemon. We expected her to be a daily fixture at the Turtle House, but we were wrong. That sighting in shallow nearshore water was the only time we saw her that year.

Summer 1998 Update

It didn't take long to resight Hoahele. We saw her at the Resting Site near the Turtle House on our first dive, June 28th. We immediately recognized her and were disheartened by what we saw. In just two years, Hoahele had gone from a youngster with just barely noticeable tumors to the unfortunate turtle shown below.

The tumor on her left front flipper, which had been the size of a marble in 1996, had wrapped itself around the trailing edge of her flipper. It was now the size of a large fist and likely made swimming difficult. Her eye tumors had grown, and Hoahele now had tumors protruding from both corners of her mouth. Who knows what the tumors looked like inside her mouth!

In addition, there was lots of algae on her shell and body, suggesting she doesn't visit the Turtle House all that frequently. Perhaps she's discouraged from visiting or is forced to leave quickly by some of the over-enthusiastic cleaner fish. They often inflict numerous and seemingly painful bites on a turtle's tumors.

We don't expect to see Hoahele in 1999.

Summer 1999 Update

We did not see Hoahele in 1999.

Summer 2000 Update

We did not see Hoahele in 2000. We believe Hoahele is dead.

Summer 2001 Update

We did not see Hoahele in 2001.

Summer 2002 Update

We did not see Hoahele in 2002.

Summer 2003 Update

We did not see Hoahele in 2003.

Summer 2004 Update

We did not see Hoahele in 2004.

Makana [1998 Turtle 57]
Who's Who Underwater at Honokowai
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