Weekly Summary--Week 4 (05/07/30)

Conditions are better...

...which isn't saying much. The swells have died down so the ocean just shushes and the winds aren't as windy. We've timed our daily dive more intelligently so we're more in the slacks. (yes, we're down to one dive a day.) It's reassuring to look up and see our air bubbles weave gently up instead of taking the Lahaina Express to Lanai!

SCUBA divers dropping down into No Current love the experience. It's as close to being weightless as someone can get on Earth. Even if that Earth is Water when you're doing it.

Best of all you can stay in one place with zero effort.

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Staying in one place with zero effort

The calmer water also brought better visibility--where "visibility" is defined as "it's-better-than-the-chalky-soup-we-were-forced-to-dive-in-over-the-last-three-weeks." Turned out this Visibility Window lasted a mere two days.

Still, we took advantage of improved conditions.

We photographed a new scratch post being carved from the edge of Reef 1.

A new scratch post being carved from the edge of Reef 1
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Monitoring the forage site

The improved conditions were most dramatic at the honu's forage site to the north. We've determined that honu behave quite differently while feeding depending on just how well they can see.

Murky water makes the honu edgy, and even old friends used to being approached by us will shrink away into deeper water. We're now experienced enough to know when not to bother snorkelling with turtles who are feeding. Their comfort level is paramount, of course, but it isn't just that.

It does them no service to acclimate them to big shapes in murky conditions. Yes, it's not a good idea to be snorkelling this area near S-Bend Park around sunset in silty, frothy, hazy water. (Tiger sharks are often sighted in this area. Recently a surfer met up with one, and now there's a memorial cross at the park.) It's also unproductive in terms of gathering the data we go into the water to get in the first place.

We now use a "Two Strikes" rule. Get in the water. You conclude conditions are murky, Strike One. First turtle you sight in the haze leaves. Second turtle does the same, Strike Two. Stop snorkeling and get back in the kayak. There is no Strike Three.

One snorkel this week lasted all of four minutes.

Ho'omalu resighted

To our utter amazement, we resighted Ho'omalu, our East Pacific Black turtle/Hawaiian Green turtle hybrid, this week at the foraging site. We saw her the summers of 2000, 2001 and 2002 and not since.

We had figured she'd just moved on, perhaps to the California-Mexico coast. Well, if she did, she decided to come back. It was a joy to resight the Very Special Ho'omalu again.

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It was a joy to resight the Very Special Ho'omalu again

Preferred foraging conditions

Calm conditions and high tides seem to prompt the honu to show up in full force to forage. From the kayak, we see heads bob up for air all over the forage site. Underwater, we often see several honu crammed shell-to-shell, feeding on especially rich pockets of their favourite seaweeds.

We often see several honu crammed shell-to-shell
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When the honu can see you clearly--and you can see them--they are far more relaxed and laid-back.

We're not sure why, but we can make a pretty good guess. Certainly it's not adaptive to be complacent and allow something large to approach in murky conditions. In the same way, a human will usually feel ill at ease being approached on a foggy night by someone who might well be a good friend, but can't quite be made out.

Is it also that honu know that murky, silty, churned-up pre-sunset water brings with it prowling sharks? It seems possible to us.

Either way, the honu's ability to see while foraging pre-sunset certainly seems to determine their wariness and tolerance for approach.

Also happening: some serious scuffling

Last week we mentioned that some of the boys had returned from the French Frigate Shoals. Specifically, we mentioned Blue's return from his reproductive duties. This week brought Pi'i's arrival. The long trip looked like it had taken a toll. Pi'i was skinny and he didn't even lift his head at our first approach. He looked dead-dog-pooped-out-drained.

We saw some puzzling behaviour involving both these prodigal males this week, and we're not sure at all what any of it means. We witnessed three bouts of serious male-male scuffling and even some mounting. All three put the new arrivals at the receiving end of the conflicts.

Blue was accosted by two males in one incident.

A male approached Blue, then skidded behind and executed a mount.

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He executed a mount

They flipped upside down, then with Blue underneath (or on top depending on your point of view) they drove for the surface. We didn't follow them so we don't know what happened thereafter.

They drove for the surface
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New Day. New Scuffle.

This one involved Pi'i, also newly returned from French Frigate Shoals, and also just minding his own business.

A male charged over Peter's head directly towards Pi'i.

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A male charged over Peter's head

He then delivered a generous portion of WHUMP-butt right in front of Ursula, giving her a front-row view of the proceedings. The attacking male dropped down a judicious chomp to Pi'i's left front flipper. After a bit more sparring, the two separated and were on their separate ways.

A judicious chomp to Pi'i's left front flipper
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We've been reviewing the photos taken of these events (about fifty in all) to see if we can determine any motive for them. These male-male interactions will provide us with much ponder-food over the next while.

Monk seal at honu foraging site

Weird how you can spend two months every summer in Hawaii going all the way back to 1977 and not see something and *whap* there it is--and you don't even recognize what you're seeing.

Scenario: we are both on the kayak, having aborted a snorkel because conditions were too murky and the honu too few and too wary. We see a huge shell off in the distance. Ursula thinks, "Wow! That's a huge honu!"

We paddle closer and the shell shines against the about-to-happen sunset. A huge lump erupts from the water and Ursula remarks, "MAN WHAT A HUGE TUMOUR! OH MAN!"

We paddle even closer to try to document the unfortunate honu.

Then there is lots of splashing. We wonder if perhaps some male scuffling grudge from earlier in the day is being carried over into the dinner hour at the forage site.

We don't know exactly when our eyes concluded the "shell" was actually a furry back. Or when the huge "tumour" materialized into a monk seal's head.

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A monk seal's head

Ursula just knew it took her 29 Hawaiian summers to lay her eyes on a monk seal in the wild--and as monk seals go, this one was big! We kept our distance, and not just because we knew that was the law. We had enough imagination to know what a crabby indignant monk seal interrupted from his supper could do to two people in a kayak.

The seal had an eel in its mouth and the splashing we'd seen earlier was the seal whacking the eel into submission using the water's surface as the "club." WHACK WHACK SPLASH SPLASH WHACKSOMEMORE!

You have to respect a creature happy in his work.

We are also happy we had aborted our snorkel due to murky conditions. Otherwise, we might have come upon this monk seal--or he upon us. We left the seal going at it and turned our interest back to the honu.

Honu heads popped up intermittently, revealing handsome honu faces. Honu faces are cute, and above all, mellow.

Monk seal faces are definitely mischief faces. Not that they have a malicious feel to them--nothing like that, but they are faces capable of doing you dirt--and just for the sport of it, should the seal hit on a dull moment.

You can never trust a creature a tad too far up the Smart Ladder.

Primo Pic of the Week

Sure, we have a photo of Ho'omalu--an East Pacific Black turtle/honu hybrid. Yes, we also have a pic of a monk seal, and it only took Ursula since Summer 1977 to actually see one for the first time. Neither of them is the Primo Pic of the Week.

Our favourite photo is actually quite ordinary. It's of two honu feeding. As photos go, it isn't even a particularly good one: a shot from a medium distance of two honu butts. Nevertheless, it's still our favourite this week.

The photo was taken July 25, 2005 and the butt on the left belongs to Tutu, who we've known since 1990. To her right is Raphael, a honu we've known since 1992. Both are females who were recorded nesting at East Island, French Frigate Shoals last summer.

For 2005, they are spending their summer feeding together, plumping up for another round of eggs we hope they will lay in Summer 2006. Two Honokowai ladies, been bumping into each other for at least 14 years, having a bite together. Couldn't ask for a picture richer in Honokowai honu history.

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No picture richer in Honokowai honu history

Lots more happened

We'd love to write more but...

...we're still working on the book.

Week 5 Summary
Summer of '05 at Honokowai
Who's Who Underwater at Honokowai
Table of Contents

Last modified 05/08/06
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