Polzbarney [1995 Turtle 15]

Fetches a 53K JPEG

That was then (inset, 1995) and this is now (2000).

Quickstats: Seen 1995, 1996, 1997 (68K JPEG), 1998 (61K JPEG), 1999 (80K JPEG), 2000. Updates: 1998, Winter 1999, Summer 1999, Winter 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004.

We first sighted this juvenile in July of 1995. We could identify this youngster easily even from a distance because of the many barnacles calling his plastron home.

Because he'd chosen to stay close to shore and right on the path we took when we began our dives, we saw him on almost every one of our 120 plus dives that summer. We named him Alzbarney after a man who used a boogie board to swim out and observe this little turtle a couple of times each day. He called him Barney, but we already had a Barney so we compromised on Alzbarney.

Then we encountered a slightly embarrassing problem. We found out that the man’s name wasn’t Al, it was Paul. At the time, we were loathe to change Alzbarney’s name since we considered this bad luck, although we couldn’t explain why.

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Polzbarney chose to live under a coral overhang close to shore


By selecting as home a little coral overhang that was so near to shore, Alzbarney was guaranteed a steady stream of visiting snorkellers. He soon learned exactly how close to allow humans to come before lifting to leave. He quickly became skilled at how much distance to keep between herself and a pursuing human.

In 1996, Alzbarney was at his regular post and we sighted him on our first dive that year. We were worried. There seemed to be just the smallest hint of trouble in both his eyes--the earliest signs of a fibropapilloma pre-eruptive tumor.

Other than that, Alzbarney had grown and was clearly prospering. Still, we knew his odds are no good at Honokowai. Predictably his friend, Paul, vacationed again on Maui that year and snorkelled out to observe him every day.

Again in 1997 we sighted Alzbarney on the first dive. This time it took only one glimpse to confirm this turtle now had fibropapilloma (FP) disease. Yes, his eyes gave it away--both showing a hint of white in the posterior corners, but there was something more definitive.

There was salt and pepper in and around both his shoulders, and several white spots on his right shoulder were now unmistakeably eruptive. Alzbarney had the smallest of tumors--but tumors they were.

That summer, his friend Paul arrived later than usual and again, every day he made sure he visited his friend, the turtle. At this point we couldn’t stand it any more. The situation demanded a name change. This turtle’s good friend had paddled out every day, sometimes several times, to visit with him.

This was definitely Paul’s Barney, and so Alzbarney’s name was officially changed to Polzbarney. We are much happier about this arrangement.

We are saddened by Polzbarney’s fibropapilloma tumors. Youngsters are affected the most by this disease. It cuts Honokowai youngsters down within two, three years of them showing the first signs of FP. The odds are not good for Polzbarney.

The fact is that in 1998 we expect his condition to be worse, particularly his eyes and shoulder tumors.

Summer 98 Update

We first sighted him on June 27th on our first dive in the same area he's called home since we first met this turtle in 1995.

At first we were surprised that he'd switched from his preferred ledge to the one just upcurrent--until we had a good look at him. Polzbarney had grown considerably in the eleven months since we'd seen him. That, however, was the only good news.

In 1998 Polzbarney was worse than ever.

His eye tumors had grown in size and the tumor on his right shoulder was now about the size of a small child's fist! New tumors had erupted since 1997: one under his throat, another on his left shoulder. In addition, our good friend wasn't nearly as active as he was in previous years. We left Maui knowing Polzbarney was in serious danger.

Winter 1999 Update

It feels extremely odd to be reporting on Polzbarney's condition for 1999 when we weren't the ones who saw him! On January 21, 1999, George Balazs went diving at Honokowai to continue his monitoring of our dive site. He recaptured Polzbarney and gave him another beach examination.

Polzbarney is brought to shore for a beach examination


In the five months since George saw this turtle last, Polzbarney had continued to get worse. All tumors had increased in size and George upgraded Polzbarney's overall Tumor Score from TS1 (light) to TS2 (moderate).

Most worrisome is the tumor in Polzbarney's throat. In August, George assessed it to be an A sized tumor (up to 1 cm diameter). Now he has rated it as a size B (up to 5 cm).

When we return to Honokowai for the Summer of 1999 we expect our good friend to continue his downward slide. Of course we'll only be able to document his external tumors--all of which we fully expect to be bigger.

We're hoping George and his team will visit Honokowai during the summer of 1999 and re-examine Polzbarney so we will know more about the tumor growing in his throat.

If Polzbarney is typical of the youngsters we've met in the past, Summer 99 will be the last we see him. To date, no youngster with FP that is still progressing in the third year has ever been sighted in the fourth.

Summer 1999 Update

Polzbarney used to spend much of his time under his favourite ledge. We were saddened to find his spot empty on most of our dives. He appeared nervous around us and we speculated that he still remembers his captures last August and most recently in January.

Regardless, we managed to document Polzbarney's condition and it is sad indeed. The tumor on his right shoulder, barely visible in 1997, has now mushroomed to an obscene size--a D using the Balazs-Work scale.

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The tumor on his right shoulder, barely visible in 1997, has now mushroomed to an obscene size


We had been worried that Polzbarney would outgrow his ledge and move somewhere else. While he still lives in The Cavern, we did see Polzbarney several times at North House. This gives us confidence that if Polzbarney is still alive in Summer 2000, we'll see him.

Winter 2000 Update

Polzbarney's story continues to get more interesting and more tragic, but we haven't lost hope yet. George Balazs visited Polzbarney again this winter. We gave the story a page of its own: For the Love of Polzbarney.

Summer 2000 Update

We resighted Polzbarney on July 2nd, our first dive of the summer. Given his large eye tumours and the grapefruit-sized tumour on his right shoulder, we thought that if we did see him, he'd be coated with algae and horribly weakened.

We were wrong. We were delighted to see our young friend so robust and alert. He looked better than he did the last time we saw him in August 1999.

That is because in March 2000, George Balazs visited Honokowai with one purpose in mind: to capture Polzbarney and to help him by freezing his tumours. See For the Love of Polzbarney.

Soon after performing the procedure, George emailed us and wrote:

"130pm went out again, Polzbarney there. What a good feeling. Brought him in, not a problem, but he was vigorous. Eyes. Oh my goodness, where are the three tumors? All I see is small protrusions. The salks? Apparently. They had to have fallen off since 2/22, or fish ate them off. Good news. But during careful inspection, Denise and I both noticed left eye not opening. Closer look, eyeball assumed to be deflated, destroyed."

By the time we saw Polzbarney, his eyes showed no signs that the tumours had tried to grow back. In fact, he's grown no new tumours at all for the last two years. Still, the tumour on his right shoulder could be enough to eventually kill him.

It had certainly grown since Summer 1999 and looked to be bigger than in the photos that George had shared with us of his two visits during the winter.

By mid-summer, we didn't see Polzbarney very much. We suspect our presence disturbed him, that he's gotten nervous with us looking in on him. We think that is because divers have now grabbed him three times and brought him ashore for beach examinations. Turtles can remember such things.

As a result, we saw him only rarely in July and only once in the month of August. We'd like to think that once we left and Polzbarney grew confident that the "divers" would no longer traverse his little cavern, he returned to tuck himself into the home he'd had for several years now.

We certainly hope to see Polzbarney during Summer 2001. We trust that he can battle this disease and win. We're sure that George Balazs will return to Honokowai before we do, and check for Polzbarney under his ledge. If the fates are kind, he'll be there.

Summer 2001 Update

Unfortunately, we did not see Polzbarney during the summer of 2001. Since his condition did not seem to be deteriorating when we saw him last, we have hopes that he is still alive and that we might see him again.

Summer 2002 Update

We did not see Polzbarney in 2002.

Summer 2003 Update

We did not see Polzbarney in 2003.

Summer 2004 Update

We did not see Polzbarney in 2004.

Zeus [1994 Turtle 20]
Who's Who Underwater at Honokowai
Polzbarney's Story
For the Love of Polzbarney
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Last modified 04/09/18
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