Weekly Summary--Week 5 (02/08/03)

Two words: no sharks!

...and we're happy.

Temperature loggers

Thanks to George Balazs and the US NMFS, we've had temperature loggers recording the daily temperatures for three selected locations at our dive site for several years now. Each summer, we plant them and then the following July we retrieve them and send them off to Honolulu. The year's information is then uploaded to computer and then the loggers are shipped back for us for another year's deployment. It took us a little longer to get around to it this summer, but we retrieved them last week, and this week we put them back in place. Another annual chore off the list.

UKB buries a temperature logger in coral rubble.

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Keeping busy

We've tried to keep up a pace of two dives a day but have fallen way short. Every prior year we've even managed some three-dive days. We can't conceive of even one three-fer this summer, though. We think that perhaps age has kicked in--although spending long nights on the beach just might have something to do with it. Then again, perhaps it's just that we feel we're not in Kansas any more. For one thing, with seven of our eleven females away (among them old loved friends Tutu and Mendelbrot) things aren't quite the same underwater.

Some males, like Nui, TAMU, 96#12, and even young Hoa are conspicuous by their absence. They too are likely making migration runs.

So while we await for all our ducks to return to the pond, we try and keep busy. Two dives a day seems to accomplish that. We continue to document the algae/seaweed cover throughout the honu's kuleana, paying particular attention to the Lyngbya that has bloomed in the last two weeks.

We collect Lyngbya at various depths for Karen Arthur, who will be doing her PhD on this particular weed and investigating any effects it might have on sea turtles.

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We collect Lyngbya at various depths.


In addition, we've started to collect sediment samples. Since we've been diving this site since 1988 and have experienced several run off events, we know where gunk that spewed from the land has collected on the bottom. For example, in 1993 when a torrential rain washed a good chunk of the West Maui mountains into the ocean, we documented where the muck collected, in some places in layers six inches deep.

Now, almost ten years later, we retrieved some of this sediment for future analysis and for archival purposes.

Almost ten years later, we retrieved some sediment for future analysis and for archival purposes.

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Stuff you wouldn't want in your freezer

We are also forever on the look out for fecal pellets. While we are by no means experts on this particular aspect of sea turtle biology, we are getting quite good at spotting them. Most are from anonymous donors but this week we got lucky.

Wana is a reliable turtle. We know where she rests and we know that when she surfaces for air, she almost always returns to the same spot. This predictability provides us with excellent photo and video opportunities, because Wana is a highly photogenic honu. Sometimes, we see her stir and know she's headed up for air, so one of us can rise up to near the surface and wait for her. Sometimes we see her already on top, so we can rise up slowly and wait. Once her head thrusts down and she tilts butt up, we know she's making her dive back down again. This is when we can get great photos or video, or sometimes, just for the delight of it we race Wana back down to her preferred resting spot.

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Just for the delight of it we race Wana back down to her preferred resting spot.


This week, however, we were in for a special "treat." As Wana drew level with the corals that ring her rest site, she took that opportunity to relieve herself and provide us with two impressive and robust fecal pellets. What extraordinary good fortune to know the turtle from which a pellet is dropped!

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Two impressive and robust fecal pellets.


We're certain this sounds odd to the reader, but we're doubly blessed with Wana's fecal pellet. Soon she will be part of a research experiment and will carry a TDR (Time-Depth Recorder) attached to her hind foot. This device will tell us a great deal about what she does during the night. We think she will do what three other honu did last year.

Uwapo, Amuala, and 605C wore TDRs for a while last summer. We think Wana, like them, will spend the entire night foraging. That's why it is wonderful to have a fecal pellet from her. It can be paired with the information provided by the device. If the TDR shows Wana in shallow water, we'll expect that her fecal pellet will contain seaweeds that grow in shallow water.

So we have one more vial to add to the freezer. No wonder people are reluctant to accept our dinner invitations!

No wonder people are reluctant to accept our dinner invitations!

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Speaking of food...

This week we were so lucky we couldn't believe it. Man were we lucky!

One of our many needs for this summer was to get photographs of a turtle foraging. Oh, we have plenty of video showing honu feeding on all kinds of things, but not a photograph that we considered was good enough to publish.

This week, a large--OK, very large--female, U164, provided us with the photo op. We delayed our dive til late afternoon because in our experience, honu don't even think of feeding until well after 4 pm. We stalked South Pasture, and that's when we noticed U164 at the surface sipping air.

Then she made that gentle swooping descent that turtles on a mission do and landed in the rock and rubble that provide substrate for "fuzzy rocks"--Melanamansia.

The only bad luck was that she did this in the southernmost part of South Pasture, and we were both down to 1200 pounds of air or so. The chance was too good to miss, though, so we shot non-stop and U164 ate non-stop.

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We shot non-stop and U164 ate non-stop.


While we've met up with other turtles who were foraging, it's always best to work with someone we know well and who trusts us. U164 took no interest in our presence, preferring to concentrate completely on the tastiest "cabbages" in the patch.

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U164 took no interest in our presence, preferring to concentrate completely on the tastiest "cabbages" in the patch.


We share this photo just for laughs. It's that precise moment when Ursula checked her pressure gauge only to find 900 pounds, knowing Peter's would read even less. We were as far downcurrent as we've ever gone, and we had the smallest reserve of air that we've ever left to get back with.


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As it happened, Ursula made it all the way underwater with just enough air to inflate her BC afterward, while Peter didn't even have enough left to blow his dust cap dry.

Diving can get exciting!

Vacation from our vacation

Sometimes we need a reprieve from excitement, and that happened this week with a call from George Balazs, who invited us to assist in a turtle rescue in the Makena Landing area. We were told we could snorkel and help bring the turtle to the beach, or simply stay dry and assist on land. We chose the latter. We truly needed a rest.

It's always wonderful to see George. He's our Hero. The circumstances certainly could have been better, though. George had received a report from Rene Umberger of Octopus Reef Dive Tours that a badly tumored turtle was in urgent need of his help. She'd provided him with photographs that confirmed the poor turtle's miserable status.

George assembled a team that included Shandell Eames (NMFS Honlab), Marc Rice (Hawaii Preparatory Academy), Dr. Robert Morris (Veterinarian, Makai Animal Clinic), and volunteers Charlene and Robin Sanders.

The operation went like clockwork, and soon everyone headed back, bringing the poor sick turtle gently along.

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The operation went like clockwork, and soon everyone headed back, bringing the poor sick turtle gently along. George made sure the animal got a chance to breathe during her trip to the beach. As soon as the turtle was out of the water, however, it was obvious that she was in a bad way.

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As soon as the turtle was out of the water, it was obvious that she was in a bad way.


White pendulous tumors blotted out her eyes and more growths protruded from her mouth. Dr. Morris confirmed that at least in one eye the tumors had fused to the cornea of the turtle's eye. The more he examined the turtle the worse the news got.

When George opened the turtle's mouth to see the extent of the oral tumors, the mood turned even more grim. How could it breathe, let alone eat?

Poor turtle.

When George opened the turtle's mouth to see the extent of the oral tumors, the mood turned even more grim.

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Then, just when you're pondering disease, death, and despair, your thoughts get turned one-eighty...


As we settled in early this morning to write this week's update, we received this email message from Dale S., whose family has been watching the turtle nest because it is literally in their back yard:



Well, considering we were planning to conduct our first hatchling watch two nights later, we didn't really like this news at all, although of course it was good news. We immediately went to the beach to see things for ourselves. We also got a chance to meet Mr. S. Sr. (Dale's father) and talk story.

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Peter, Mr. S. Sr., and grandson Michael.


None of us could believe the early emergence, even though the Lahaina morning sun was already blazing fiercely.

We're not anything resembling experts, but we did our best to count the number of tiny turtle tracks padded into the beach the night before. If we counted plastron scrapes there were 18. If we counted flipper tracks there were 20. We also realize that hatchlings could have scrambled atop the trails of their brethern, so we're certain the number emerging last night was likely considerably higher.

The truly good news, though, was that every single tiny turtle track led to the ocean.

So instead of several nights of dropping by that would have started tomorrow, we will be doing the midnight shift on the beach this evening. It's almost certain the main horses have already fled the barn, and we'll pick up mainly the stragglers this evening--if there are any left.

No matter. Even seeing one hatchling will be worth another sleepless night.

On the drive back from our early morning nest check, Peter said it best: "Another carefully-laid plan up in smoke..."

Ah, but the honu knew what they were doing! Hundreds of tiny flipper prints can't be wrong.

Hundreds of tiny flipper prints can't be wrong.

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Week 6 Summary
Summer of '02 at Honokowai
Turtle Happenings
Who's Who Underwater at Honokowai
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Last modified 02/08/10
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