It’s alive! Really…

February 18th, 2008  

First, the excuses…

So much for good intentions.

You might have noticed that things came to an abrupt halt. (Perhaps both of you did.) Right at the end of November, our car died. Literally. It happened right in front of the place where we always took it for repairs. It had been there so often in the prior month or so that I think it just decided it wanted to stay there. So it did.

Anyway, replacing the car became a full time occupation for most of December. On top of that, other priorities arose and the result was no time for Trax updates. Howzit’s visit to Mississauga also went into stasis, a state from which it has yet to emerge. I’ve been promised that it will happen, so please be patient.

Book news

University of Hawaii Press has provided us with a book production timeline. If all goes well, the book should be in stores sometime in September. Right now it’s in the layout stage. We expect to get galley proofs for review in March. We can’t wait, because it will be the first time we actually get some idea of what it will look like in print. Once we’ve seen it, I’ll post our reactions here.

Maui in winter

Yes, we were on Maui for four weeks. I had intended to post weekly updates, honest I did. Events conspired against me, however.

One of us (I won’t say who but her initials are Ursula) decided that it would be a Good Idea to take only one laptop. Well, after all was said and done, the results were mixed. Since our computer usage had to be serialized, something had to give–well actually, several things, and posting weekly updates was one of them.


Maui in wintertime is… odd. We weren’t used to the sun setting behind Lanai. The angle was all wrong and kept us a bit disoriented the whole time we were there.

Our first Maui sunset for 2008


 Our first Maui sunset for 2008 looked alien to us. That’s Lanai, but we couldn’t help feeling that it should be Molokai.


Click image to enlarge


Maui’s mountains in summer are red and brown. In winter, they are a lush green with a little red showing. Same with Lania and Molokai. Beautiful but strange to us. We’d always wondered if the dry brown grasses of summer ever turned green. Well, they do, and it’s wonderful to see, but it doesn’t last long. They were green when we arrived but by the end of January, when we were about to leave, everything had begun to turn yellow and was starting to go dormant for the summer. It reminded me of the brief but spectacular wildflower bloom you see for about three weeks in late June and early July in northern Newfoundland and Labrador. Oddly, the north’s bloom is far more colourful than Hawaii’s winter greening, but then for the rest of the year the positions are reversed: Hawaii is spectacularly colourful and northern Newfoundland and Labrador is, well, kind of drab.

It was also cooler than we’re used to on Maui. Mind you, we weren’t bundled up in sweaters and jackets like the locals, but we did notice that it wasn’t as warm as it is in the summer. Especially the pool. That sucker isn’t heated. In the summer, it gets a lot of sun and is usually pleasantly warm. In the winter, the sun doesn’t shine on it much and while the water temperature would be just fine on a summer’s day in Mississauga, it’s not exactly what you’d like on Maui at any time. Maui is supposed to be warm.

We were told that this winter was unusually cool and rainy. Well, it certainly was rainy compared to what we’re used to. It didn’t really make that much difference to us. Maui rain isn’t like Mississauga rain. You can stay out in it. It’s lighter most of the time, and warmer always. The downside is that it washes mud into the ocean. Mud makes for lousy visibility when diving.

Not that there would have been that much diving. The winter waves (which, like the sun, come from the wrong angle) are bigger than their summer cousins. Great for surfers, hell for divers. Our whole concept of what is a large wave at Honokowai had to be adjusted. Big waves don’t just prevent us from diving while they wave, they also stir up the water so that it takes a couple of days after they stop before the visibility clears. We are not fans of big waves.

On the positive side, the winter conditions did expand our comfort level in the kayak. We negotiated wave conditions that we would never have considered before. This happens when you leave shore when the waves aren’t too big, and while you’re out there, the swell comes in and walla! You get to learn how to surf your kayak!

Whales!

The whole purpose for visiting Maui in winter was to see the whales. For me, even more compelling was to hear them. I wanted to be underwater and hear the whales sing. Without that, the whole trip would have been disappointing.

We did manage to get in four dives in four weeks. On each of those dives, we heard whalesong. Sometimes faint, sometimes strong, it was always there. The experience is impossible to describe, except to say that it was beautiful and exceeded anything I had expected. I’ve often heard recordings of humpback whales singing, but to hear genuine live whalesongs myself was something I will never forget.

Of course we saw whales as well. The second time we went out on the kayak, we spotted frothing in the water indicating a whale might be headed in our direction. By the time I got out the camera and turned it on, they were nearly on top of us. A mother and calf swam past us at a distance of no more than 20 meters, with the calf breaching about halfway out of the water once before they zipped away. The whole thing was over in seconds. I didn’t manage to get anything worthwhile with the camera, but we didn’t care. We’d come to Maui to see the whales, and seen them we had.

I think Mom must have put out the word that we’d had our close encounter though, because despite spending hours and hours on the water for the rest of our stay, no whale ever came close again. We did see whales breaching right next to others in kayaks and canoes. Not us. We frequently saw huge splashes and spouting whales–way off on the horizon. Not near us. Didn’t matter, we were having fun anyway.

We got the most fun satisfying our curiosity. We wanted to record whales singing. We weren’t sure we could, especially since we could not see any whales in the immediate vicinity. Here’s our first attempt, courtesy of YouTube:

We were thrilled by what we got. That video shows you what we did but it doesn’t really do justice to our recording. This next video gives you a better idea. I made it as a large pod of dolphins swam right past the kayak, some of them quite close, but I knew the camera would have trouble picking them up. You can barely see them in the original video, but that’s what Ursula is pointing at, dolphins. Now that it’s been YouTubed, well… Anyway, we were hoping to capture some dolphin chatter from that swim-by, but no matter how hard we listened, we couldn’t hear anything like the noises we expected. Lots of loud whales, though.

Then we wondered if whales sang at night. We could have easily gotten the answer from the Googles, but we had more fun using the empirical method. (Spoiler alert: they were even louder!)

You might be wondering what’s going on after the 1:14 mark. Ursula is holding a NiteIze signal wand. These are waterproof (rated to 300m depth) and highly visible. They’re great safety lights for night kayaking. You can also use them to make bizarre video. (Well, we needed some visuals for the whalesong…)

The honu…

Of course we didn’t neglect the honu. We spent several hours floating above Reef 2. We were gratified to see numerous turtles coming up to breathe. In January, all of the honu should be at home since nesting migrations are still a few months away. We were eager to get a dive in to see who was there.

When the waves finally settled down and we got out to the reef, we did find a lot of turtles. We had exepected this, based on the numbers we’d seen surfacing for air.

What we didn’t expect was that many of the Reef 2 regulars weren’t around. For example Ho’oulu, who was there last summer, wasn’t there for any of our four visits. We thought we’d see some of the tagged turtles, but only Tiamat was around. We recognized a few others, but a lot of the honu we’d hoped to see just weren’t there.

That’s me taking Raphael’s picture


Your intrepid reporter photographs Raphael, one of the few regulars we saw.


Click image to enlarge


We’re not sure why we didn’t see more familiar faces. It might simply be that we just weren’t out there enough. It would be pretty easy to miss somebody given the limited time we had to look around. We’d like to believe that this is the explanation rather than, say, finding that the regulars have abandoned Reef 2. Remember, we didn’t see a lot of our regulars last summer either.

If they’ve really moved elsewhere, this would be a first for us. In our experience, whenever the honu have abandoned a site they all move elsewhere. This time, Reef 2 still has lots of honu–just not the ones who used to hang out there. Is this a permanent change? We’ll have to wait until next August, and even then there’s no guarantee that we’ll be able to tell what’s going on. All we can do is cross our fingers and hope to see more of our familiar cast when next we dive.

Changes

I’ve updated the description for the Show Turtles Aloha campaign at Laniakea to reflect the new foundation that is now running the programme, the Malama Na Honu Foundation.

I’ve also updated the guidelines for reporting sick or injured turtles.

Finally, I added an introduction to Why Howzit Is Dying to put it in context with the latest findings. That essay was written in 1995 and a lot has changed. In particular, I was worried that it left the wrong impression, namely that the honu were in danger of being wiped out by tumors. That’s not the case, although there are still reasons for serious concern.

Sorry, no new Howzit yet. You’ll have to take that up with the Mississauga Muse.

I promise it won’t be so long until the next post. Aloha!

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