July 26th, 2009
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There’s a large (probably over a hundred but who knows) pod of spinner dolphins that frolic up and down the West Maui coast. They’re delightful to see because spinners seem to take great joy in leaping high out of the water, spinning madly, and landing with a great splash. We see them from shore many times during a summer, and it isn’t uncommon for us to hear them during a dive. Hardly ever do they come within view while we’re underwater, but when it does happen it makes that dive really special.
On July 20 we had such a dive. We’d only submerged a couple of minutes before Ursula signalled to me that she could hear dolphins. She has to do this because I’ve gotten deaf in the higher frequencies that dolphins like to use, and even when they’re right on top of us I can’t hear a lot of the chatter. At any rate, almost as soon as she finished letting me know, she pointed excitedly up to the surface. Ursula talks to her camera underwater these days, and even if I couldn’t hear the dolphins I could hear her shout, “THERE THEY ARE!” I’ll let the video tell the rest.
Cutting the line
The dolphins had already made our July 20 dive special, but there was more joy in store. I experienced my happiest moment underwater so far, and quite likely the happiest moment of the whole summer.
In the summer of 2008, we noticed that a Honokowai male (1998 Turtle 32 in our database, no name) had gotten monofilament line wrapped tightly around his left flipper. The line was embedded fairly deeply in his skin. In such cases, the line often tightens and cuts off blood circulation, eventually rendering the flipper useless. Such entanglement will actually amputate the limb, although it is a long and painful process.
Most Honokowai honu allow us to approach closely, but throughout the summer of 2008, 1998-32 would not let me get close enough to try taking the line off. We kept seeing him on most dives this summer (2009) but he was still wary when I tried to approach. Fortunately, his flipper looked healthy and he seemed to have full use of it. Knowing the potential for disaster, however, I could not abandon my goal of removing the line.
CAVEAT: DO NOT ATTEMPT A RESCUE LIKE THIS UNLESS YOU HAVE CONSIDERABLE EXPERIENCE WITH TURTLES! NOTE THAT IN THE U.S., APPROACHING SEA TURTLES CAN BE CONSIDERED HARASSMENT AND COULD RESULT IN CHARGES.
On July 20, for the first time, he let me get close enough to reach out with my scissors (don’t all divers carry scissors?) and get in a snip. We (the turtle and I) were lucky in that one cut was all I needed to get the whole tangle off. Ursula caught the whole thing on video:
Since then, we’ve seen him and gotten a good look at the flipper. The limb appears fine, with no permanent damage except for scarring. 1998-32 also seems more tolerant now, although we no longer have reason to try to get close. Two days later, I got this picture:
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15 bundles of joy
Another source of Maui joy comes whenever we have the privilege of watching a turtle nest being excavated. On July 21, 2009, we got that chance. Hawaii State Biologist Skippy Hau excavated two green turtle nests on the north shore of Maui, near Waihe’e. Both had hatched within a day or two of each other, meaning that two different females were nesting on this beach. Since nesting in the Main Islands is still rare, this Maui beach has become an important site for honu.
Once hatchlings are known to have emerged from a honu nest, the procedure is to wait 5-7 days, then excavate the nest. On Maui, excavations are the responsibility of our good friend Skippy Hau. He excavates for two reasons: first, to rescue any trapped hatchlings, and second, to evaluate the success of the nest and to collect any unhatched eggs or dead hatchlings for analysis by the Marine Turtle Research Program run by George Balazs for the NMFS.
Hatchlings need other hatchlings to help them dig out of a nest. (See our book, The Book of Honu, for a nice description!) This means that when Skippy digs out a nest, he’ll usually find at least one or two trapped hatchlings, stragglers who have no hope of digging themselves out without help. In this case, Nest 1 contained seven live hatchlings and Nest 2 added another eight. Skippy saved fifteen little honu, and at sunset, released them to scamper down the beach before an adoring crowd.
This video shows how cute honu hatchlings are. Beware, heart thieves at work!
If you’ve watched the video, you already know how difficult it is for hatchlings to reach the water. They struggle down the beach, only to be tossed back when a wave breaks over them. Often this happens repeatedly, and clearly it is exhausting for the little turtles. I give you my favourite photo from the nest excavation, which I like to think symbolizes the battle of the honu hatchlings to reach the sea.
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