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|Quickstats: Seen 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996.||Summer updates: 1996, 1997, 1998 to present.|
We thought we first met Aikane in 1991, but see our Summer 1997 update below. On what we always had assumed was our very first meeting, she swam right up to us, face to mask, and we found ourselves looking at a turtle examining us very curiously and intently.
At first we figured her for a turtle we'd known from previous years but upon reviewing our records back on shore, we concluded that this friendly, self-assured creature was "new." We named her Aikane, the Hawaiian word for "friend, friendly."
During our summers, she is a daily presence at the Turtle House. In the time we've known her, she has grown large enough that we expect her to be away some summer soon, and to return sporting a set of shiny turtle tags.
We also very much worry about Aikane. Each year when we go back to Maui, we worry if this is the year, she will begin to show the white spots (we have coined the term "salt and pepper") that will develop into fibropapilloma tumors by the next summer.
For the most part, her life is an enviable one. Whenever we meet her, she is either snoozing, sunning, or scratching herself. Little flusters her. She seems fat, sassy, and confident that the universe is unfolding as it should, traits she shares with many cats we've known.
Aikane was there as usual this summer. She has increased in both size and girth since last year and has clearly prospered. We were relieved to see her on our second dive and find her free of disease.
The prominent memory we have of Aikane for this summer is a worrisome one. We watched a long-nosed butterfly fish (Forcipiger flavissimus) finish cleaning a badly tumored turtle, then flit over to Aikane. The fish approached her from behind and then picked directly at the posterior of her right eye several times. It was clear this hurt, because Aikane flinched.
It has been our experience that turtles who receive such "attention" from cleaners eventually come down with eye tumors. This is the first time we have observed this happening to Aikane.
Because of this observation and comments made about the appearance of her right eye by George Balazs, we are now fearful of her status in 1996. Of all the turtles at Honokowai, Aikane is the most special and dear to us.
We saw Aikane again on July 1st, 1996, on our second dive of the summer. It was obvious she hadn't missed too many lunches and was even more impressive than she was last year.
She showed a suspicious white spot on the left side of her neck. We watched it throughout the summer and it seemed to wear off by the end of August. This blemish was worrisome but did not appear to be a beginning tumor. What did worry us was the appearance of her eyes.
Her left eye was showing a ropey coarsening near the posterior of her eye right by the outer canthus. This, almost without exception, is where and how tumors start in the Honokowai population.
Our close up vision isn't what it used to be so we were required to wait until our macro photograph returned from conversion to Photo CD. We posted this image on the Web and invited experts to comment. The area outlined in red is shown magnified in the JPEG image. As we expected, the general consensus is that the photo shows the very earliest kind of epidermal growth.
Although we didn't put it on the Web, we have a 1995 photo of another turtle that showed similar developments in her eye in exactly the same location. This summer, that turtle has a small but unmistakable tumor.
We believe Aikane, our miracle turtle, now has the disease. By 1997, we expect that this pre-eruptive growth will have developed into a true ocular tumor.
In 1996, one of our goals was to capture images of fibropapilloma tumors in the earliest stages. That our example might turn out to be Aikane is particularly painful and ironic.
We did not see Aikane in 1997. This was both disappointing and frustrating. We had been looking forward to resolving two questions about Aikane: whether she is actually a he, and whether the ominous signs in her eye have developed into full-blown tumors. These questions now have to wait until at least 1998. We suspect that Aikane might have migrated to the French Frigate Shoals, since she (or he) is certainly large enough to be sexually mature. This is the most likely reason for the absence of a turtle that has been a faithful regular at the Turtle House since 1990.
Yes, that's right, 1990. During a review of old videotape, we captured this fuzzy but unmistakable image of Aikane. We always thought she had been pretty casual about us approaching her in 1991, and now we know why. She'd been casing us for a summer already.
We have not seen Aikane since 1996. Although this is disappointing, we are not worried. We've since learned enough to understand that even if Aikane developed tumors, her (his?) chances of recovery were excellent.
We have a lot of video of Aikane, but sadly, the quality is lacking for much of it. The clip offered here is typical. (YouTube is wonderful but it reduces the quality even further.) This is from 1990 to 1992, including the first documented sighting of Aikane as well as some interesting behaviour.
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