Week of July 21-28, 2007

July 28th, 2007  

First things first

Thanks to those expressing concern about Jose’s welfare. He showed up at the office on Monday, and apparently is doing well. We won’t say he’s fine because having been through a car-totalling accident ourselves several years ago, we know that the effects can be long-lasting. Aside from the physical shaking up, there’s also the mental trauma. Sure you’re safe but…

In our case at least, it took a long time to get over what might have been. We hope Jose is better at it than we were.


Remember how last week we mentioned just how busybusybusy we were? Well, this week we were still busy but much of our energy was devoted to happenings in our hometown Mississauga.

Seems our local government, The Corporation of the City of Mississauga, needed our attention and so we were distracted from the task at hand–the turtles. (See Mississauga Musings for the details.)

That’s the reality when you have a social conscience and have experienced a political awakening. You conclude that it does not make sense to fight tumours in turtles but not in our democracy.

Canadians need to be vigilant, otherwise we get mini-Bush administrations mushrooming up.

So what did we do this week?

It was surprising how little of our time we actually spent in the water. Given that diving conditions were splendid, we’ll likely think back on this week and wonder why we didn’t take advantage of the water.

The thing is–and we keep reminding ourselves of this–this summer we are on vacation! If we want to be lazy, we can be. If, for two days in a row we don’t get wet not even to shower, so be it. We can’t even remember the last time we were on the kayak.

That’s ok. We’re having a wonderful time doing what normal tourists do–frittering around.

Diving do-done-did

We did do some diving this week. (Even today, Turtle Trax update day!)

Earlier this week, we dived at Kuamo’o in Napili. We saw so many turtles that it was often difficult to document them all properly. They were everywhere at Kuamo’o. It was raining turtles. We recognized several honu that we’ve seen in previous years. We even sighted honu we’ve also seen at Honokowai.

Out on Reef 2, attendance hasn’t been up to previous summers, but there are still interesting things happening. For example, we were videotaping and photographing a group of three turtles, all of whom we’ve known for years, when one of them decided to get rambunctious. See the result for yourself.

Diving detectives

Closer to home, some rigorous detective work and plenty of phone calls and emails with George Balazs finally confirmed a new tag number on the right front flipper of a subadult honu.

We first saw this turtle on July 15. We could see that it had a single tag, on the right front flipper, and we even got a photo of it. The number, 78, looked odd because honu tags are generally an alpahebtic character followed by three digits. Nevertheless, there are exceptions and we contacted George to report a new tag read.

Looks like an 8

Obviously an 8. The 7 is partially hidden in this photo, but we saw it clearly.

Click image to enlarge

George immediately told us that there had to be more. Sure enough, we saw the turtle a couple of dives later and realized that the tag had rotated so that only the last two digits had been read. Worse, we could see that now the tag had rotated completely and so would be much harder to read.

Fortunately, this turtle is really laid back, even for a honu. On Monday, Ursula saw it sleeping with the right flipper propped up. Setting Jose’s Camera to video, she slid it underneath in a shoot-and-hope, without even waking the turtle. The result wasn’t great, but using a frame grab and some filters to bring out the detail, we could determine that the alpha had to be O or Q, and the first digit was a 7. There was a suspicious gap, then the 8 that we’d already read.

First step in revealing the number

The frame grab, with added contrast to bring out the characters. Not too clear yet, but…

Click image to enlarge

A little digital manipulation later…

A few minutes and some well-chosen filters later, we squeezed out enough clues for George to solve the tag.

Click image to enlarge

Final result

Here’s a composite image that shows the complete tag. See us next week on CSI.

Click image to enlarge

The only question was whether the 7 in this image was the same 7 in the original image. George quickly put the doubts to rest. He deduced the tag had to be Q-778, and sure enough his database confirmed this. The only right front flipper tag it could be was Q-778, attached in 1997 at Waikoloa on the Big Island. At the time, the straight carapace length was 56.3 cm. There were three subsequent captures, all at Waikoloa, with the last being in 2003. At 65.7 cm, the honu had only averaged 1.5 cm a year of growth, but this is normal for that area since food for the honu is scarce there. Four years later, Q-778 has found better pastures, because we estimate a carapace length of 75 cm or more. That’s about 2.5 cm a year, much better and more typical of honu in areas where food is more plentiful.

Getting an estimate of growth is one reason George was particularly interested in this tag recovery. Another is that sadly, this honu has developed tumours. The Kona coast of the Big Island has so far been free of tumours, so it is of great interest when a turtle from that area is sighted elsewhere with tumours. Something about that coast seems to protect the honu, but what? No one knows, but George is still looking.

Diving not-done

The other thing we accomplished this week is putting off going to The Turtle House. We put off swinging by North House too. Both require snorkelling a long distance to the north and if the prevailing current is running, just getting to where we need to descend is no fun. We did snorkel over both areas from the kayak back in Week 2, and the results weren’t encouraging: five scattered around at North House (where we used to see a dozen or more) and nobody at the Turtle House or The Rock. We’ll get there eventually, but we’re not feeling much pressure.

That’s just about it. Not sure why we’re such ghastly slugs. Never in our lives have we been so ho-hum-la-dee-dah about diving. Ghastly slugs slugging it, but we’re having fun. Even if it’s just this no-need-to-sleep-on-the-beach summer.

The joys of vegging. Of diving–but maybe we’ll just take a nap. Can’t even remember the last time we were at the gym. Like two kids playing hookey.

Plump dark cherries were a buck-ninety-nine here for the longest time. We now have hi-speed internet toot-sweetie. We even did laundry the other day for the first time since we got here. When we do dive, there’s just so little fibropapilloma that we can relax and–celebrate our relief.

La-dee-dahhhhh… Do-dah do-dah. Jackie, Ursula’s youngest sister, also served up some good advice. Forget Mississauga politics. Les Despicables will still be there when we return.

This week’s theme video

We’ll leave you with another video clip. This one is calm and relaxing, exactly the way we’ve felt all week. The honu is Pomaika’i, a male we’ve know for over ten summers. He had that big chunk taken out of him before we ever met him. It must have been awful but honu, like all marine turtles, have amazing recuperative powers. Now, he’s one of the calmest and coolest turtles we know. Meet Pomaika’i (Hawaiian for “lucky”).

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Week of July 15-21, 2007

July 22nd, 2007  

For Jose

This week, we received some disturbing email from Canada, informing us that Jose, Peter’s employer, had had a terrible car accident. The report was that he had cuts and bruises and wasn’t at work, but he was home from the hospital. We’re not sure how seriously he was hurt, but we’ve been thinking of him because he’s a good friend and a patron. “Patron” –yes, that’s the right word.

Without Jose, Turtle Trax wouldn’t be possible, and we wouldn’t have been able to come to Hawaii. Jose made it possible for Peter for all these years to take the summer and spend it with the turtles. He’s always supported the concept and the idea that we were working with and for the turtles.

He even provided “Jose’s Camera”.

Just last summer, completely out of the blue and as a total surprise to us, we received a package from Jose while we were in Hawaii. It turned out to be a wonderful little digital camera and underwater housing, with the capability of not just taking excellent-quality digital photographs but also making fairly high quality video.

Without this camera, diving for these aging Boomers would be a lot more arduous. It’s small and easy-to-handle, not at all bulky and awkward like our past cameras and housings. Ursula calls it The Perfect-Perfect Camera. Even now, a year later, we call it “Jose’s Camera”.

So this year our Summer 2008 weekly updates are dedicated to Jose, and for the first time this week, Turtle Trax now has a YouTube and Google Video presence. We uploaded three videos made with his camera.

We begin with our signature video, “Honu Hula” which is also dedicate to Jose. We’re thinking of him and we’re truly grateful.

WAI? –the honubill resighted.

Wai?–which means “Who?” in Hawaiian–is a cross, a hybrid between a hawksbill (‘ea) and green turtle (honu). We first met Wai? (yes, the name has a question mark in it) in 2004 at our alternate dive site, Kuamo’o.

There are few documented hawksbill/green crosses and Wai? is the only one known to exist in the Hawaiian islands. Hawaiian hawksbills are rare so you can just imagine how unique Wai? is. What a thrill it is when this honubill makes an appearance.

Last summer we wrote the following in our Week 2 (July 15, 2006) Summary we wrote:

“We got close enough to take excellent photos of both Wai?’s eyes and we’re worried that they’re showing the first signs of fibropapilloma. Because Wai? is so different we can’t even state with reasonable confidence whether time will tell.”

Time told.

Alarming eye

Wai?’s right eye has a small but worrisome tumour.

Click image to enlarge

Wai? is not only the first Hawaiian hawksbill/honu cross that anyone knows about, Wai? is now the first documented case of Fibropapilloma (FP) in a hawksbill/green cross. Because there are hawksbill genes involved, we’re concerned that Wai? is a possible vector that could spread FP to the Hawaiian hawksbill population-–which would be a horrible thing.

This troublesome discovery is obviously important and needs to be monitored, although it’s difficult to monitor Wai? because we only see this turtle two or three times a summer. The potential for spreading the disease is there and somebody has to keep an eye on it.

What follows is video of Wai? This footage is unique. While photos exist of hawksbill/green hybrid, this is the first video of such a creature.

On a sad note, if you watch carefully it’s possible to see a beginning (white) tumour growing in the corner (posterior) of Wai?’s right eye.


Did we mention we were busy?

The rest of this weekly update will be in Reader’s Digest short form because we’re busy!

  1. We resighted Raphael. We first met “Raph” in 1992 and this Honokowai lady is still around.
  2. We resighted Uwapo. Every time we see her we’re reminded of her grievous shark attack wounds-–particularly the loss of her right flipper. We feel badly for her but we’re also glad to see her every year. We cherish every first sighting of our good friend Uwapo, who we’ve known since 1997.
  3. One of our goals this week was to retrieve all three temperature loggers from various locations at our dive sites, and we did, which brings us to—
  4. We made our first dive at Kuamo’o on July 19th and retrieved the third logger from The Toe. Lots of turtles at Kuamo’o. Small turtles. Big turtles. The good news is that when we emerged from the water, we both had the same perception. There seems to be far less fibropapilloma than in previous years, and there’s an encouraging number of regression cases. So good news on the honu front.
  5. Wana’s been around, and we got some neat video of her scratching. Honu like to get underneath an overhang and rub their shells against it. We assume they get some pleasure from it, since they do it a lot. Anyway, see for yourself.

  6. Oh yeah, we’re switching these summaries over to a blog format. You might have noticed. There’s still some rough edges to work out but we like what we’ve got so far. We hope you do too. You can leave comments! Let us know what you think.

Forgive us, there’s lots more to write about but it’s Hawaii outside and-–you know…

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