Zeus [1994 Turtle 20]

Fetches a 76K JPEG

That was then (inset, 1992) and this is now (2002).

Quickstats: Seen 1992 (by Rob Hawes), 1994, 1995 (73K JPEG), 1996 (68K JPEG), 1997 (65K JPEG), 1998 (83K JPEG), 1999 (81K JPEG), 2000 (70K JPEG), 2001 (63K JPEG). Summer updates: 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004.

We first identified this turtle in 1994; however, video from 1993 reveals a very large male turtle that we suspect is Zeus. Since we never got close enough for positive identification, we cannot say for certain.

Our first meeting with Zeus was memorable. He is the largest turtle we have ever seen and he looks very old. He leaves no doubt he's the boss and when he lands he attracts all manner of fish to his carapace. He is his own ecosystem.

While we first officially sighted Zeus on July 16th 1994, we have proof he was actually resident to Honokowai previous to this. Rob Hawes, of Kihei, Maui, visited Turtle Trax and left email saying he had dived off Honokowai in 1992 and had taken photos of turtles. He offered to send the pictures just for curiosity and to see if there was anyone we recognized.

Rob Hawes' March 1992 photograph of Zeus (inset) compared with a 1995 portrait.

Fetches a 51K JPEG

The inset in the above image is a video shot of Rob's March 1992 photograph of Zeus. This proves Zeus has been a Honokowai resident for a least 4 years. It also makes Rob the first person to sight one of our turtles and prove it through photo identification. We have long claimed green turtles can be identified without the use of tags. Rob's 1992 Maui photo demonstrates that the method works. It also strongly supports our hunch that the large male turtle swimming off in the distance on our 1993 video is Zeus.

Zeus' profile is unmistakable as he has large patches of brown. His left profile has a unique swirl just behind the eye. Zeus is the only green turtle we have ever seen whose neck is wider than his head. In that regard he resembles a professional wrestler.

For all his size and girth, Zeus is both gentle and shy. When he is at the Turtle House he either rests by himself or will sit beside Nui (a young male).

Zeus named himself. His size, his apparent age all make him a pleasure to observe. In fact, he is mesmerizing.

Summer 1996 Update

We resighted Zeus on our morning dive of July 18. He accepted us calmly enough but he has an exact comfort distance beyond which this huge yet shy animal will up and leave. While we have excellent video of Zeus this season, the only photograph record of him is the one below, in which he is swimming out into deeper water.

Inspection of our video reveals that Zeus has essentially remained unchanged since the previous year. We take that as good news in a place where most turtles just get sicker and eventually disappear.

In all our dives we have only seen Zeus rest off by himself. He certainly isn't anything you could describe as sociable. While there are many females that could interest him he shows zero tendency to interact with them. Several younger males in the area pay him little heed either.

We are not certain whether this is just because Zeus is very old and prefers his peace, or perhaps we simply aren't around to observe any of his social behaviours. From what we have seen to date, Zeus can be described as a wizened and gentle recluse who is likely the oldest of all the turtles in the community.

We aren't even sure if he frequents the French Frigate Shoals for mating. We have seen him each summer since 1994 and if he does make the trip, he manages to return by July when we re-sight him.

Zeus always leave us with lots of questions and little in the way of answers.

Summer 1997 Update

We know Zeus has lived at Honokowai since at least March 1992, thanks to a photograph sent to us by Rob Hawes, who also dives in our area. We sighted Zeus on our first dive and logged him in as 1997 Turtle #3.

Even though 10 months had passed since we last laid eyes on him, he accepted our approach calmly and this allowed us to assess our old friend. 1997 marks the year Zeus has developed fibropapilloma disease--that is, unmistakeable tumors in both eyes.

Examining his body, we noticed the white spots on throat and shoulders that grim experience tells us signals eruption of tumors the following season. If fibropapilloma disease works its typical evil with Zeus, by next year this ancient will be burdened with a horseapple collar, tumor-clogged eyes, and multiple growths around flippers and shoulders.

We can only hope Zeus will be one of the fortunate few who, for whatever reason, can come back from the disease, show improvement, and ultimately complete regression. The summer of 1998 will certainly tell us what this old turtle’s future holds.

Summer 1998 Update

Well, we were wrong. There wasn't anything certain about Zeus in the Summer 1998 except that our old friend showed up regularly. Zeus held court that year both at the Turtle House and at his favourite spot along Reef 2.

He continued his shy, gentle ways and seemed to enjoy the company of another male, Kaula, whom we've known since 1989. On several occasions we'd see them resting together.

We examined Zeus' condition thoroughly that year. His eyes still showed the tumors from the year before but we dared believe they'd actually gotten smaller. Still, we weren't confident enough to add Zeus to our growing list of fibropapilloma regression cases.

We did know one thing for sure: Zeus' overall condition had not become worse. When dealing with fibropapilloma, that in itself is cause for cautious celebration.

Throughout the summer Zeus was his old inactive self, preferring to hang around the reef and do not much of anything but be king of all he surveys!

Summer 1999 Update

Zeus didn't take long to put in his first appearance of 1999. We sighted him at his favourite haunt--appropriately called Zeus' Lair--on the morning of July 4th. He regarded us calmly and we managed to get a good look at him. His eye tumors were definitely improved. This time there was absolutely no doubt. We happily added our "alpha-male" to our fibropapilloma list of regression cases.

Early in the summer we'd discovered a new turtle hangout further toward the north and we soon made North House our morning dive destination. This turned out to be a good thing. For 1999, Zeus spent more time at this new location than he did at Reef 2. Oddly, at no time did we see him at the Turtle House--a place he'd visited for years every since 1993. Since we did not visit the Turtle House regularly in 1999, however, this might not be significant.

We found Zeus to be much more active than last year and we're not sure why. He was interacting more with the younger males, although admittedly that was not always by choice!

Zeus was Main Player in one of our favourite 1999 memories.

This is Zeus and George Balazs of the US National Marine Fisheries Service in Honolulu.

Fetches a 42K JPEG

Zeus has progressed from not showing up at all when George is around, to leaving as soon as he approaches, to this encounter...

Fetches a 35K JPEG

which let George appreciate fully how Number One Zeus really is around here.

For Summer 2000, we fully expect our marvellous big ole male honu to be at Honokowai--the place he's called home since 1992. We love him.

Summer 2000 Update

Our old friend Zeus didn't take long to put in his first appearance. We sighted him at Reef 2 during our afternoon dive on July 6th. He accepted our presence easily and allowed us to do a close and leisurely assessment of his overall physical condition.

Zeus, an FP regression case, looked to be disease-free and prospering for another year. That made him one less turtle for us to worry about. We'd sight him either at Reef 2, or more frequently, along the reef flats at North House, depending on his mood.

Zeus is enormous--the largest turtle at Honokowai. Massive. Yet, for all his size, he's shy and gentle. A splendid honu. How old is Zeus? How long has he been at Honokowai? (We know he's been resident here since 1992 but it must certainly be longer than that.) Did he grow up along these West Maui reefs?

Try as we might, it's difficult to think of Zeus as a 35 cm little "recruit" appearing at Honokowai for the first time. Was that the 60's? The 50's? How old is Zeus? How much longer will he live? We do know that he's looked pretty much the same since 1992, almost a decade ago.

To us, he represents what all young, male honu likely aspire to be. Enormous, majestic--but above all, laid-back.

Fetches a 46K JPEG

A grand male honu


Zeus is king!

Summer 2001 Update

Zeus is one of our special favourites. His name brings on a smile and such special memories. Everything about Zeus is special. Zeus is a unique kind of special and much-loved.

Zeus has been resident of Honokowai since March 1992 although we are sure he's been around much before that. Summer 2001 marks the tenth summer that we've sighted this extraordinary beast.

We happily sighted Zeus for the first time on July 6th--an afternoon dive. He was tucked in a favourite resting spot along Reef 2, his main hangout.

If you took all the turtles we've ever known at Honokowai (over 500 now) and brought them all together in one place and you were asked, "OK, which one's The Leader?", you'd easily pick out Zeus.

He just looks KING.

No one knows how long sea turtles live, but if we were granted the answer to just one question, it would be this: How old is Zeus?

The reason we ask is because our wonderful friend looks no different than the first time he was ever photographed back in March 1992. He looked old even back then.

We have sighted Zeus ever summer since--and that's not right. At least some of those summers he should have been away on a migration to his breeding grounds. Instead, he's always "home."

Is Zeus so old he no longer makes the trip?

Of all the honu we love, Zeus fascinates the most.

Summer 2002 Update

We have to admit that Zeus had us worried. For years, he'd be one of the first turtles sighted each summer. Now it was almost three weeks of diving and still nothing. Surely our old male wasn't making a migration run to East Island, not when for every summer since 1992 he's been Home!

We looked, and looked diligently--but no Zeus.

Then, on the afternoon dive of July 17th, there he was. King Honu tucked into a turtle trample at the seaward edge of Reef 2. Certainly not one of his favourite hangouts but no matter. What a joy to see our dear honu, Zeus, again!

A quick once-over confirmed that the last ten months had been good to Zeus. Our last ten months had been a regimen of low-fat meals (bird seed, rope and then more bird seed) and long arduous daily exercise just so Peter's doctor would clear him for diving.

Sighting Zeus this summer was the sweetest of all. He is just simply beautiful--as all honu are. Zeus wasn't around as much during Summer 2002 as he has been in previous seasons. We sighted him just a half dozen times or so.

Still. Sighting means we know he's safe and he's still calling our dive site home.

To celebrate one sighting, Peter slipped behind Zeus for his 2002 portrait. We've known Zeus since 1993 (probably), making this ten summers that we've seen him at Honokowai. If fates are kind we'll be granted ten more with this gentle and splendid ol' honu.

Summer 2003 Update

We were disappointed but not entirely surprised that we didn't see Zeus this summer. He was a late show in 2002, and we didn't see him much. It's possible Zeus has just shifted a bit, probably to the south. When we did see him last year, it was in the southern part of our range. We're keeping our fingers crossed that we haven't seen the last of the Big Guy of Honokowai.

Summer 2004 Update

Followers of Summer Summaries already know that we kept a specific watch for Zeus in 2004. We were disappointed and sad that we never saw him. Maybe next year.

Or maybe not. After all the years at Honokowai, perhaps he felt the urge to hang around somewhere else. We have no reason to think that anything has happened to Zeus.

Mendelbrot [1993 Turtle 21]
Who's Who Underwater at Honokowai
Table of Contents
Last modified 04/09/11
Send comments or corrections to webmaster@turtles.org