Akebono [1999 Turtle 42]

Fetches a 42K JPEG

That was then (inset, 1999) and this is now (2003).

Quickstats: Seen 1999, 2000 (58K JPEG), 2001 (61K JPEG), 2002 (62K JPEG), 2003. Summer updates: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004.

We don't really know exactly when we first met this little turtle, but we do know when she got over her fear of us and allowed us close. It was July 17, 1999, and it was a late afternoon dive with zero current and shining sun.

Hovering over Reef 2, the newest little turtle of 1999 was having a terrific time fluttering about

Fetches a 56K JPEG

There, hovering over Reef 2, the newest little turtle of 1999 was having a terrific time fluttering about. Ursula went closer and for once, the little turtle ignored her--the youngster intent on attracting six goldring surgeons to clean her shell.

A tiny little creature, she still sported the big liquid brown eyes of a honu "baby-face" and the serrated marginals that make some people mistake young honu for their endangered cousins, the hawksbills.

The little turtle is about 40 cm long and is as cute and she is teeny. We knew she was special, so a name was in order.

Now, what's the perfect name for the tiniest turtle on the reef?

Fetches a 24K JPEG

What's the perfect name for the tiniest turtle on the reef?


We called her Akebono... and then immediately began to worry about her. How long before she follows the road the other youngsters have taken here at Honokowai? How long before Akebono gets sick with fibropapilloma (FP) disease? How long before she looks at us through tumored eyes?

How long before Akebono "disappears"?

We had every reason to worry about the little honu's future. There was something about the right eye...

Akebono's right eye, overexposed to highlight detail

Fetches a 48K JPEG

It was showing the earliest signs of abnormality--the unmistakable harbinger of FP.

2000 Update

We resighted Akebono on our first dive of the summer and we were immediately distressed. The youngster was showing white in the posterior of both eyes.

Fetches a 44K JPEG

The earliest hint that an eye tumor was erupting


This is what Makana had the previous year--that earliest hint that an eye tumor was erupting.

We looked closely. We looked hard. Try as we might, we could not make out a true tumor growing from the eyes. Akebono was not yet at the eruptive stage, where we can make out an unmistakable lump.

We fear, though, that by Summer 2001 this little turtle will have true tumors--certainly over both eyes. That's because for the little ones, fibropapilloma disease is depressingly predictable.

2001 Update

Well, our prediction was wrong, thankfully.

We sighted Akebono for the first time in 2001 at Reef 2 near East House during an afternoon dive on July 5th. To our surprise, the early signs of fibropapilloma had not advanced to any noticeable degree. Of course we're happy for the little turtle but this good fortune has also left us puzzled.

We thought that perhaps the tumors would erupt during our observation time, but happily that didn't happen either. Still. We continue to list Akebono as "Pre-eruptive." The posterior of both eyes show white and warped tissue--early signs of the disease.

This summer was a sad one for us. We did not sight Polzbarney at all. We fear that he might be dead. His ledge sat empty during the first few summer weeks. Then Akebono took it over, tucking herself in the same small enclave that Polzbarney used to call home.

Polzbarney doesn't live here anymore. Now little Akebono does. We are afraid that like Polzbarney before her, Akebono will also get the tumor disease and "disappear" on us.

Prediction for Summer 2002? Same as last year: tumors, at least in both eyes.

2002 Update

It's always nice when a "regular" checks in first thing, and that's exactly what Akebono did. We sighted the cute little turtle on July 2nd, our first dive of the summer.

A quick inspection showed that the last year has been kind to Akebono. Yes, her eyes were showing signs of Fibropapilloma but they were not that much worse than the year before. At least, that's how it looked in the early summer.

By late August, however, tumors threatened in both eyes as swelling continued, and now a small true lump could be seen in the right eye. More worrisome, Akebono had white blotches on the neck and shoulder--harbingers of body tumors.

We sighted Akebono almost daily in her preferred spot at The Cavern, and we delighted in her company. Most days, that simply meant seeing her on our snorkel out, and then seeing her again as we returned to the beach.

She'd watch us while resting in the comfort of her ledge, and we happily watched her watching us!

We believe that in 2003 Akebono will have true tumors. While the pre-eruptive stage has taken almost three summers--comparatively slow progress considering that Akebono is a juvenile--we don't believe she'll be as lucky next summer.

We fear that in 2003, she'll be watching us through ocular tumors, simply because that's the course of this disease.

2003 Update

We sighted Akebono for the first time on our July 17th morning dive. The little turtle had changed so much that at first we didn't even recognize her. After all, in the summer of 2002 she'd only had the tiniest pinprick hint of tumors in her eyes. In addition, only the small "pimples" erupting on Akebono's shoulders hinted at anything amiss.

What a difference eleven months can make in this disease!

Akebono swam up to us and her sad state confirmed a condition far worse than even we, at our most pessimistic, could have imagined. Last summer we wrote, "We fear that in 2003, she'll be watching us through ocular tumors, simply because that's the course of this disease."

Tumors--the white-hot aggressive kind--mushroomed from eyes, neck, shoulders and even both sides of the mouth. We'd seen this happen a few times before. A turtle (usually a juvenile) showing just the barest hint of FP one summer...

Fetches a 40K JPEG
Fetches a 50K JPEG

2002. Note the discolouration (purplish-grey) in the posterior of Akebono's eye and on her shoulder.
2003. Tumors are clearly visible where the discolouration was in 2002. Catastrophically, numerous tumors erupted in places that showed no warning signs at the end of summer 2002.

...to "Severely Afflicted" the next.

We don't expect to see Akebono in 2004. Like Makana before her, Akebono becomes the newest juvenile FP victim.

2004 Update

As expected, we did not see Akebono in 2004.

Zaphod [1993 Turtle 4C]
Who's Who Underwater at Honokowai
Table of Contents
Last modified 04/09/18
Send comments or corrections to webmaster@turtles.org