Nui [1990 Turtle 7]

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That was then (inset, 1990) and this is now (2004).
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Quickstats: Seen 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004. Summer updates: 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004.

We first met this turtle in 1990. She (but see below) was already an impressive size and showed considerable interest in us. We called her Nui, the Hawaiian word for "large, big."

On her right shoulder was a curious white lump the size of a grape. All we knew about the lump back then was it caused her no end of misery. We often saw whitespotted tobies or saddleback wrasses bite directly on this lump. She would react violently, slamming her eyes shut, jerking her head in pain, and most times, swim away from her tormentor.

We did not see her at all in 1991, but in '92 we were amazed at the increase in Nui's tumor. The grape-sized lump was now the size of a large grapefruit. Another apple-sized lump was growing under her neck.

When we saw Nui in 1993, we realized he was a male. His long tail left no doubts: Nui was really a he, not a she. Nui had other surprises in store for us as well.

By 1994, Nui had put on considerable growth, especially his girth. His tumors appeared to be shrinking in size. This was cause for celebration until we noticed suspicious white spots on other areas of his neck and shoulders. We are not sure what to make of this. The white spots could be the harbinger of bad times and more tumors. 1995 should tell one way or the other.

Summer 1995 Update

As Nui matures, he is becoming more reclusive. He spent less time at the Turtle House this summer, and was most often resting in The Outback, an area in in slightly deeper water and another 100 metres or so from shore.

The good news about Nui is that his old tumors continue to regress. There are some signs that new tumors might be forming, however. We had been hoping that regressing tumors indicated that a turtle had developed antibodies that would bestow immunity from further attacks. 1996 will tell us whether this is a false hope.

Summer 1996 Update

Unfortunately, we did not see Nui in 1996, so we cannot report on his apparent regression. Nui has disappeared for a whole summer once before, in 1991, so we are optimistic that we will see him again, in better health than when we met last.

Summer 1997 Update

On July 29th on our morning dive a large male turtle approached the Turtle House, swooped directly over us and then landed nearby. We could tell immediately it was our old friend Nui. We hadn't seen him since 1995 and yet he acted as if no time had passed since we last saw each other.

The most striking thing about Nui was how positively skinny he was. His wine barrel shape was gone and he looked like he hadn't had a decent meal in months. Something else was strange about him. He just lay drooped and pooped on the bottom, barely lifting his head and showing no interest in the comings and goings of other turtles.

Had he been human, we'd have concluded that he'd just returned from an all-weekend drinking binge somewhere. For over a week, Nui did little but lie there, head propped on a rock, eyelids barely open. It's all speculation of course, but we believe Nui was at the French Frigate Shoals and his morning July 29th appearance was his return to his home foraging site. This can never be proven because the good hearts at the French Frigate Shoals don't get a chance to tag male turtles, since they don't come ashore.

The good news is that by the end of August, Nui was his old active self again. We hope that before the Summer of 1998, he will acquire some of his previous girth. After all, we called Nui Nui for a reason. "Nui" is Hawaiian for "big" and we didn't just mean length!

Despite his weight loss, Nui looked good. His shell was clean and his markings were spectacular. His right shoulder tumor has continued to regress and shrink in size. We're pleased with the improvement in his health. Nui has been a good friend since 1990, and remains one of the few Honokowai turtles with signs of recovery.

Summer 1998 Update

In the summer of 1998, we first sighted Nui resting on coral just a few kicks seaward of the Honokowai Turtle House on our June 29th morning dive. Nui had prospered and acted like no time has passed between our last meeting.

Right from that moment he gave us terrific photo opportunities. Nui was still doing well, still very much a fibropapilloma (FP) regression case. His only remaining tumor--still obvious on his right shoulder--continues to shrink, but we doubt it will ever go away completely.

As we reported in 1997, we believe Nui made a reproductive run to the French Frigate Shoals that year. He returned to Honokowai in time for us to sight him. He was noticeably skinny from that long arduous trip.

A full year being a home-turf reef potato did wonders for his physique. In 1998 Nui was the breadth and depth of a full-sized wine keg. We hope to see our special friend in 1999 but we think it more likely he'll be making a run at the Shoals and fathering a new generation of turtles.

We're happy about that because Nui is an FP regression case. We'd like to think that he has special FP-battling genes to pass on to his offspring.

We love Nui a great deal. He's big and beautiful and has grown into a confident yet gentle male honu.

Summer 1999 Update

We did not see Nui in 1999. We think he was probably migrating to the French Frigate Shoals, and that we will see him in Summer 2000.

Summer 2000 Update

Well, we were right! We saw Nui in Summer 2000. Whether he was away last summer at the French Frigate Shoals, we'll never know. Regardless, it was a joy to see our old friend back.

Nui. We've known him now since 1990--a decade together. Nui grew up to become a male and we--well, we just grew ten years older.

We sighted Nui for the first time this summer on our July 10th morning dive, resting comfortably at North House. Even though we hadn't seen him since 1998, he accepted our approach calmly, barely bothering to open his eyes!

Nui, laidback and confident. Nui, one of The Old Ones, those special turtles whom we've known from the very beginning. Nui, who contracted fibropapilloma in 1990, battled the disease, won, and is still a large presence at Honokowai.

How long do turtles stay in the same place?

In a paper we wrote last year for the 20th Annual Sea Turtle Symposium, we speculated that some--the lucky ones--will do so all their lives. We wrote:

We believe there's a strong possibility that if a youngster settling into Honokowai survives FP, it will mature there, migrate to the French Frigate Shoals and back during its reproductive years, age, and ultimately die at Honokowai. We're confident that one day the remarkable bond of the honu to their underwater home will be recorded in decades, not just years.

Well, Nui's just gone from "years" to a decade. He's now working on the second...

Summer 2001 Update

On July 15th we sighted Nui for the first time in Summer 2001.

What joy! Of course Nui didn't care; he had no reaction whatsoever and let us pick up from where we left off last year. He graciously let us shoot all the video we wanted and allowed Ursula to pose with him for a portrait.

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Portrait of Nui and friend
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With the continued absence of Kaula, the longest residency at Honokowai now belongs to Nui and our Grande Dame, Tutu. Both Nui and Tutu were first sighted by us in 1990. Since that time we've watched Nui grow the long tail of a male honu, witnessed his fresh return from his migrations to the French Frigate Shoals, and prosper into a big ol' honu. In between he contracted fibropapilloma disease and triumphed to become one of our first regression cases.

For whatever reason, Nui spent his time exclusively at North House and was not observed anywhere else in Summer 2001. He also provided us with excellent foraging footage one morning when he spent a full ten minutes having a protracted breakfast.

Usually when we saw him, Nui wasn't doing much of anything, simply busy doing nothing--and he's good at it too!

Summer 2002 Update

We did not see Nui in 2002. We're confident that he was off to the French Frigate Shoals to socialize with his lady friends. He's skipped summers in the past, so we don't think he's abandoned Honokowai yet.

Summer 2003 Update

Well, Nui's back!--but it sure took him long enough. We didn't sight our old friend until July 31st, halfway through the summer. Finding him resting in the sand near the Reef 2 complex was also a surprise. Nui is, for the most part, a North House turtle.

One look at this male lying in the sand and we knew he'd just newly returned from the rigors of the 2003 mating season. Nui could barely hold his head up. His flippers lay limp on the bottom. His carapace was clean--completely algae free.

And boy, was he skiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnyyyyyy!

These reproductive duties take much more out of a male than from a female. At least that's the impression we get when we compare what each looks like upon newly returning from French Frigate Shoals.

Both males and females arrive tired, meaning they lie around and sleep a lot. Both sexes have nice clean shells, but males look positively skinny. Often their flippers, feet, and tails have been chewed up by other males during the mating process.

Since Nui didn't look to have a scratch on him, it's likely he didn't get into the action all that much this summer. Or, we have a honu who's Very Fast on his Feet and managed to avoid clashes with other fellow competitor males. We're voting for the latter.

Summer 2004 Update

We encountered Nui hanging around Reef 2 on our first dive of 2004, and he seems to be doing well. Nui is now one of the two honu with the longest records for residency, the other being Tutu.

As the summer progressed, we didn't see Nui a lot but we knew he was around. Then, as we spent more time investigating the foraging area that we discovered this summer, we started to see Nui more often. Like many of the Honokowai honu, Nui feeds regularly on the limu growing on the rocky shoreline to the north.

We hope he feeds well because we think he'll probably make the migration to the French Frigate Shoals next summer. If he does, he'll need to pack on the body fat because the honu don't feed during the long journey. With luck, Nui will show up part way through the summer of 2005 bearing the tell-tale white scars of mating battles, skinny as a rail, and with a carapace clean as a whistle. Watch this space to see how accurate our forecast turns out to be.

Video of Nui

This clip features short excerpts from video made in the period 1990-1992. The quality is poor due to our lack of expertise in those days, but our goal at the time was documentation not pretty pictures. During this time, Nui's shoulder tumor was one of the largest we'd seen, and had us quite worried about his chances of survival. We were ecstatic that Nui became one of the first honu whose regression we documented.

McTaggert [1992 Turtle 35]
Who's Who Underwater at Honokowai
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Last modified 07/11/04
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