For the Love of Polzbarney

Poor poor Polzbarney. We've known him since 1995, when he was as charming as he was small. From 1995 on we've seen this little honu almost every summer day. He's as much a part of our dive as sunshine is to a crisp blue morning. Sadly, we confirmed that Polzbarney contracted fibropapilloma disease in 1997.

In the summer of 1999, Polzbarney's condition grew worse (as expected). His eye tumors increasingly blocked his vision and the tumor on his right shoulder, barely visible in 1997, had mushroomed to an obscene size. Because Polzbarney is a juvenile he has little hope of recovering from the disease as an encouraging number of larger turtles do. (See Photographic evidence for the regression of fibropapillomas afflicting green turtles at Honokowai, Maui, in the Hawaiian Islands.)

The NMFS Marine Turtle Research Programme, headed by George Balazs, has responsibilities for the research and recovery of Hawaiian honu. To this end, he has taken a special interest in the turtles living at our dive site. In fact, George had already met and examined Polzbarney in 1998.

This means we're fortunate that we don't have to wait til the summer to get reports on Polzbarney's condition. George snorkeled at Honokowai on February 22nd and found Polzbarney. From George's email to us:

"I spent about 10 min with him. When first seen he was exactly where he would be expected, in his home. The good news is that his belly is robust. The not so good news is that not unexpectedly his tumors have progressed. I took a roll of photos 400asa NK IV. We'll see how well I did. I am committed to doing an experiment that certainly can't hurt him, and could help him. The key here is that you all will be back and can report on results regularly."

We were shocked when George's picture of Polzbarney arrived. The honu was much worse --both his eye tumors were now a ghastly size. Clearly the disease was still progressing.
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Both Polzbarney's eye tumors were now a ghastly size.

Photo courtesy George H. Balazs

George resolved to help Polzbarney. In a subsequent message George wrote:

"I now view this fellow as a living ambassador for Hawaiian honu afflicted with the disease. Polzbarney continues to live among his own kind. Where I believe he wants to be, and should be. For better or worse. Not in some tank. If we can help him out there, as an "out-patient," that would be ever so good.

If we can't, then his journey, his story, as per your videos and our research, is a living testament to the many others with FP. I feel that, at any one time, we need One Turtle like this to stand out..."

With this, George set the wheels in motion. On March 9th, George and research/dive partner Denise Ellis returned to Honokowai with the specific objective of helping Polzbarney.

"Our goal was accomplished--but not easily nor rapidly."
-- George

Photo courtesy George H. Balazs

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Through excerpts from his email, we'll let George tell the story:

"Denise and I spent 13 hours on Maui yesterday. Our goal was accomplished--but not easily nor rapidly. And, like everything, there is both good news and less good news to convey.

"When you get the photos taken 2/22 you will see two #3s, one on each eye, and one also with a #2. We went out yesterday at 11:30 am. No Polzbarney. But Denise spotted a clean 38lber (under a coral head 50m from Polz ledge) which we caught and worked up.

"1:30 pm went out again, Polzbarney was there. What a good feeling. Brought him in.

"Eyes. Oh my goodness, where are the three tumors? All I see are small protrusions. Apparently, they had to have fallen off since Feb 22nd. Good news."

Then George relayed the bad news:

"But during careful inspection, Denise and I both noticed Polzbarney's left eye not opening. A closer look revealed that the eyeball was deflated, destroyed."

(This is not altogether a disastrous thing. We have two regression cases at Honokowai who've lost an eye to FP and both were still doing well last summer.)

George continued:

"Four tumors selected for the cryo treatment. Three treatments for each with slow thaw (takes a long time). Since January 1999 our records show that Polzbarney's weight has increased by 2 lbs. (CCL increase 1.5 cm). He is not emaciated, not even the suggestion of 'skinny.'

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Four tumors selected for the cryo treatment. Three treatments for each with slow thaw (takes a long time).

Photo courtesy George H. Balazs

"2.5 hrs later we let him go, took off like a rocket for the gap in the limestone. Right eye must be compensating very well."

That's good news.

So we wait. Wait three-and-a-half months til we return in the summer or until George makes it back to Honokowai before then to check up on the little guy.

We'd informed George that we had resigned ourselves to lose Polzbarney to fibropapilloma disease ever since the first small lump appeared on the honu's shoulder in 1997. In addition we told George that we were appreciative of his efforts to help "no matter what the results."

We also informed him that if Polzbarney follows the fibropapilloma "schedule" of other juvenile turtles, the summer 1999 will be his last on Honokowai reef and we didn't expect to see our friend in Summer 2000.

George's response? We're letting George Balazs have the last word here--with our gratitude.

"...Over here we're working hard on several fronts to make your predictions not come true. The course of the future can be changed."

Over here we're working hard on several fronts to make your predictions not come true.

Photo courtesy George H. Balazs

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Polzbarney [1995 Turtle 15]

Polzbarney's Story

Turtle Happenings

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Last modified 00/04/01
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