Aloha Rick. You left too soon.

July 28th, 2008  

In memoriam: Rick Dalton (1956-2008)

On Saturday, July 26, my brother-in-law and friend died suddenly and tragically from a previously undetected heart condition. He was doing something he loved–cycling–when witnesses saw him fall from his bike. Despite the prompt arrival of paramedics, he could not be saved. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

Yesterday, Ursula and I took a tribute float of flowers out towards the setting sun. As soon as we launched the kayak, a honu surfaced for a moment right beside us. While we were paddling straight out, a rare solitary dolphin broached in the distance. At moments like these, I can’t help but feel a spiritual connection with existence, with life–and death. For me, the appearance of these two creatures symbolized the aloha I felt for Rick.

Flowers to express aloha for a dear friend

Taking a float of flowers out to sea at sunset in memory of Rick

Click image to enlarge

I really liked Rick. I wanted to write a lot more here. I can’t. I’ll resume the normal updates later, when I feel better.

Aloha nui loa Rick.

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Just when we thought we were having a good week… (July 13-19, 2008)

July 20th, 2008  

5690 nests again: an experience re-born

Since 2000, 5690 has nested every even-numbered year. That’s as frequent as sea turtles ever get, and it’s not unusual for some of them to go three or even four years between nesting seasons. I don’t think 5690 will ever wait more than the bare minimum, however, because she lives only a few kilometres north of her nesting beach. Not for her the gruelling 800 kilometre swim to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, oh no. She’d rather run us ragged every second year watching for her to nest, and then keeping an eye on the nests to see when they hatch. I’m sure she does this on purpose.

So it was that we felt lucky this week when we got a call on Monday morning from Skippy Hau, Hawaii State Biologist, that 5690 had been seen ashore the previous night. This was a day earlier than we thought we had to start watching, so I rushed to the beach and checked out the dig. I was worried that we might have missed her, but it looked to me that she’d given up and gone back without dropping eggs. Close one. We couldn’t be certain, of course, so Monday night Ursula and I prepared for an all-nighter and headed to Kamehameha Iki Park.

We needn’t have worried. When we got there 5690 had already crawled up the beach, wandered around a bit, and made a couple of false starts. (We later reconstructed this from her tracks.) We arrived just as she settled in for some serious digging. Her previous nests this summer have all been in more precarious locations, closer to the water, where waves have often swept over them. She chose to make this one well back from the waterline.

Our luck continued to improve when the Yoshino family showed up. Lindhow (Mom), Lana (11), and Max (9) had met us before in 2006 at the excavation of one of 5690’s nests. (At least, that’s how I remember it but my memory is long past its best-before date.) What I do recall clearly is that both kids were impressively bright and keenly interested in sea turtles. At any rate, Lindhow had brought them along to see if there was any sign of hatchlings from 5690’s earlier nests. They were delighted to discover that Momma 5690 herself was in attendance, digging industriously.

Watching 5690 make a nest is a long and sometimes boring process, but having the Yoshinos there transformed the experience. For one thing, both kids already knew a lot about sea turtles and nesting, but they still had endless questions. Intelligent, thoughtful questions. The kind that make the time go by. Ursula and I appreciated that.

For another, watching the Yoshinos was like re-living our first nesting experience. The joy and excitement was contagious. They were having a ball and thanks to them, so were we. Best of all was the moment after 5690 entered her egg-laying trance and the Yoshinos got to creep quietly up behind her and peer down into the egg chamber. The Yoshinos are perfectly aware that once a sea turtle starts laying her eggs almost nothing can disturb her, but you’d never know that by their respect and quiet behaviour… and oh, the aloha! You could feel it in the air. It was perfect.

Yoshino family & 5690

Once 5690 was deep in her egg-laying trance, it was possible for the Yoshinos to get a look at her eggs.

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From the time 5690 drops her last eggs until she finishes covering up is usually about two hours. It’s long, and truthfully, the most unexciting part of the whole thing. The Yoshinos could easily have been forgiven if they’d left right after seeing the eggs, but I don’t think you could have dragged them away with a two-ton pickup. Fortunately for all concerned, she’d started early (for her) and almost exactly at 1 AM, 5690 wearily dragged herself back into the water.

It wasn’t quite over. The place where 5690 had nested is exactly where people like to lie or sit during the day, since it is shaded for a good part of the time. Surfers start arriving right after sunrise, so we had to drive in posts and put up CAUTION tape before we went home. The Yoshinos eagerly helped until the whole job was done, then gave us warm hugs before heading off to bed. I’m not sure what time Max and Lana got to sleep, but I’m betting it took a while before the excitement of the evening wore off. Mahalo nui loa to them for an evening not to be forgotten.

Luck of the George

So far our luck was quite good. Somewhere I think there’s a huge balance scale, however, and when our luck is good someone else’s goes bad. This is where I introduce our great friend and mentor, George Balazs. He’s the Leader of Marine Turtle Research for Hawaii and he visits us once or twice each summer in the course of carrying out other work-related duties on Maui. George had been hoping that 5690 would wait one more night so that he could see her again, but our good luck with the Yoshinos and the short night (relatively) was his bad luck. Not so bad, you might be thinking. Just wait.

George was due to arrive on a late afternoon flight so that he could give a presentation to a group of stranding volunteers, the people who take care of turtles when they wind up ashore and in difficulty. When he got to Honolulu Airport, however, his flight had been cancelled. He hastily made arrangements for the next flight, which would get him to Kahului behind schedule, but while he made that flight, his luggage (with the handouts he’d prepared) didn’t.

George’s volunteers had waited patiently for him (who wouldn’t be willing to wait a while to hear George talk about turtles?) and the presentation went well even without the materials. As he was leaving, George called us to say he was on his way.

An hour passed. That’s usually long enough to make the trip from Kihei to Honokowai, but not this night. The phone rang, and it was George—stopped dead on the highway about halfway here, thanks to night-time construction. So clearly, George had a streak going.

When George finally arrived, we had a wonderful time for what was left of the evening and a fair chunk of the early morning, getting to bed far too late. Up too early as well, but a day with George is always full and never dull. Things to do, places to go! First, we took George’s rental car across the island to recover the lost luggage. That done, we looked around a reported green turtle nesting sites at Waiehu, then drove over to take a look at Waihee (no nests reported this year), both of which are fairly isolated stretches of beach. Why do I mention that point, you ask?

George, intrigued by a road sign

George couldn’t resist taking a photo of the road sign that points to both nesting beach sites we were on our way to visit.

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Well, next it was on to lunch at Wendy’s, Kahului—where George glanced out the window and said, “Hm. Does that tire look flat to you?” Yup, the little black cloud was still following George around. Flat as a pancake, at least on the bottom.

Our Good Luck week must have partially offset George’s Bad Luck week, because we could have gone flat at one of the nesting site spots, which would have been inconvenient to say the least. Fortunately, the service truck was stationed fairly close by and a friendly, efficient tow truck driver had us back on the road without too much delay. George had work to do at Maui Ocean Center (always a treat to visit, you should go).

Maui Ocean Center has a turtle tank, which usually contains around half a dozen small honu hatched at Sea Life Park on Oahu. When George visits, they’re weighed, examined, and given PIT tags in preparation for eventual release into the wild. George worked on a table right next to the turtle tank, giving patrons a great opportunity to see the turtles up close and observe turtle science in progress. George’s little black cloud must have been elsewhere for a while, because everything went smoothly and quickly.

George Balazs measuring one of MOC’s honu

Visitors to Maui Ocean Center get a rare treat: honu up close and out of the water, as well as a chance to see how sea turtle biology is done.

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Our good luck trumps George’s little black cloud!

One of the nice aspects of our Maui Ocean Center visit was that they expressed an interest in having us conduct a book-signing there—but of course, this meant we’d need books to sign. The last week of August (also our last week on Maui) will be Sea Turtle Week at the Center and a book-signing during this celebration of honu would be wonderful. As far as we knew, the schedule still had bulk shipments of the book at the end of September at the earliest, but I agreed to contact our publisher, University of Hawaii Press, to see what chance there was that we could squeeze out at least one advance copy. Failing a full book-signing, they were willing to consider a presentation where we could at least generate a little publicity for the book.

The next morning (Friday) I sent email to our editor asking about the possibility. We were floored by the quick reply: an advance copy had been put in the mail that morning! Take that, George’s little black cloud! We—including George of course—were ecstatic. We had thought that we wouldn’t see an advance copy until we were back in Mississauga. To receive it here on Maui was a really special bonus.

We went about the rest of the day running around with George as usual, visiting 5690’s nests and a few other sites where we knew honu go to forage and in a couple of cases, sometimes haul out to bask. We were on a real high, the only down side being that George would be leaving in mid-afternoon. When we returned to the condo to prepare for his departure, we didn’t really expect to find the book waiting, but I checked the mailbox anyway.

Now I know people like to dump on the US Postal system, but folks, they outdid themselves on Friday. The book, posted Friday morning on Oahu, was in our mailbox at 2 PM Friday afternoon! Beat that, UPS and FedEx!

Your author and a big grin

The US Postal Service comes through!

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Those of you familiar with the CMYK colour space (the one used for offset colour printing) is not kind to blues. It’s the hardest colour to print correctly. This fact had me extremely nervous about the colour images I’d provided. After all, I’d never done this before. To make matters worse, after I’d finished and everything was off to the printer, I happened to read Dan Margulis (world renowned colour printing expert) on the topic of printing blues, and frankly, it made my stomach churn. Had I done it right?

I need not have worried. Folks, even if I do say so myself, the book is stunning. The printers did a fabulous job. You should get your copy and see for yourself (hint, hint). We couldn’t be happier with the final result. Best of all, George–who has been a major part of this book since the beginning—was here when it arrived, and was at least as thrilled as we were. It just doesn’t get any better.

The authors and George Balazs with The Book

The authors and George Balazs with the advance copy of our book—at long last.

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So we’ve been over the moon ever since. We haven’t managed to dive or get out on the kayak for a long time, but none of that bothers us right now. The Book of Honu is finally a reality. Not just printed and ready to sell—t’s beautiful.

Oh, and that little black cloud?

Waiting for George at the airport. About two hours after his flight was supposed to have left, we got a phone call from George. His plane was still sitting on the tarmac, delayed by “paperwork.” He eventually did get home, several hours late. For George, this Maui trip had been a mixed bag, but all of the misfortunes were offset by arrival of the book. All in all, it was a Good Week. Aloha!

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…annnnnd… We’re back! (July 3-12, 2008)

July 12th, 2008  

5 months is way shorter than 10!

It’s Maui out again! Visiting in January/February really helped a lot, especially considering that the past winter was more unpleasant than usual. I don’t know how we’ll handle next winter, since we’ll be enduring or normal 10 month hiatus. On the other hand, I really don’t want to dwell on that downer until absolutely necessary. On to happier topics…

The Book of Honu

When last we left you, our book was still in layout. Not long after we got back to Mississauga, we got a PDF for proofreading purposes. We’d been anxious to get this because up till then we had no idea what the book would look like. Once we opened it, however, we saw that our anxiety was misplaced. I know we’re biased, but the book is simply stunning. The UHP book designer, April Leidig-Higgins, did an amazing job. The graphic accents and overall layout are beautiful.

I’m a font geek and I was concerned that we might wind up with some mundane or ugly font (can you say Times-Roman? ) but I need not have worried. The text is set in Minion Pro, which I love. Okay, I know most of the readers will never care, but it was important to me. It’s difficult for me to express how happy I was with the choice.

Two days before we left Mississauga for Maui, we received a copy of the fall catalog for the University of Hawaii Press. We were ecstatic to see that UHP used the cover image from our book for the catalog’s front cover! The Book of Honu is listed prominently on page 1, which is as good as it gets. We couldn’t have asked for more.

Cover, The Book of Honu

I know we’ve been talking about this forever, but it’s nearly here at last. This is how the cover looks. Attractive, is it not?

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Anyway, until you have a copy in your hands you won’t know what I’m talking about. The schedule calls for advance copies to arrive in September, with bulk shipments starting in October. I’m not sure what UHP distribution is like outside of the Islands, but I do know that you can already put in your order at all the major online booksellers. (Blatant plug: please do!)

Drop shadows? We hates them…

Just in case you’ve been paying attention and wondered how the Battle of Shadow’s Deep is going, well, it isn’t. This post is using a bastardized combination of tables and CSS for drop shadows, and I don’t think it works at all in Internet Explorer 6. As far as I can tell, in IE6 you don’t get anything. (Thanks, Microsoft!) At least everything looks right in Opera (still the champ), Firefox, and *ptui!* IE7. I know there are still a lot of IE6 users out there, but the effort to tame that piece of {expletive deleted} is just not worth it.

First dives

We’ve made four dives so far, with mixed results. The visibility is poor even though (until today) the water’s been pretty calm. We’re not sure where the silt is coming from but we know it’s out there.

The trend towards an underwater desert continues. There’s less and less algae of any kind. Inshore, it’s now common to see honu foraging in the early afternoon. Before this year, they stayed mostly along the makai side of the ridge of petrified beach sand that we call the Sea Wall. Now we’re seeing as many as a dozen coming right up to the waterline in the evenings.

Out on Reef 2, we’re seeing perhaps half as many honu as we used to see a couple of years ago. That’s 12-15 turtles, which is still a goodly number but we can’t help but feel a little disturbed. A lot of our regulars haven’t been seen yet, but it’s still early.

The Turtle House revisited

Every year we make at least one dive to the Turtle House, but to be honest it’s a visit we don’t look forward to anymore. It’s just sad and depressing to verify yet again that the place where it all started has long been deserted by the honu. This summer we decided to get it over with early. As expected, there were no turtles at the Turtle House, and no evidence that they’ve been using the place.

Fire In The Turtle House at the Turtle House

Our plastic-encased copy of Osha Gray Davidson’s great book, Fire In The Turtle House, is still in place at the Turtle House.

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The Rock, however, was a slightly (but only slightly) different story. As we approached, we could see one honu snuggled under a ledge. She didn’t bother to open her eyes as we approached, so we felt that it must be a turtle we know, and indeed it was: Wana!

Wana at The Rock

First sighting of Wana for 2008–in an unexpected place: tucked under The Rock.

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The big experiment

Somehow, Ursula got it into her head that she could “talk underwater.”

This was partly inspired by the success of our experiment with recording whalesong during our winter visit. I thought she was nuts [Ursula: WHOA! That’s “creative, non-linear thinker” to you, there guy], but hey, she’s my wife so I have to cut her a little slack.

How did that work out? Well, you be the judge:

Trust me, you weren’t as surprised as I was.


It’s an even-numbered year, so 5690 is doing her thing again. Before we arrived, we got word that 5690 had been active. Because she is well known and nests on a heavily-used beach in Lahaina, it was inevitable that she would attract more attention than ever. Unfortunately, this has resulted in problems for her. We’ve been told that her attempts to nest have been interrupted by enthusiastic but inconsiderate observers, with the result that at least on one occasion she gave up and headed back into the water.

For us, this means another exhausting summer. We’ll attend the beach every night she’s due up to nest. We don’t have any special authority over her or the beach, but we can be there to try to explain to anyone else who notices her what she is doing and why she shouldn’t be disturbed. In our experience, people are quite happy to leave her in peace once it’s been explained what she’s doing and how to behave around her. We’ll report here how it all works out. Meanwhile, her nest #1 is due to hatch any day now, and we have to go and check for evidence of emergence. Aloha!

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