Saturday, April 18, 2015         

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While snorkeling last week, I noticed that some Hawaiian dascyllus were mostly gray, some were nearly all white, and further on, they were black with a white spot on each side.

Hawaii's annual spring pageant is upon us, the superstars dazzling in their April outfits as they prance through backyards, across golf courses, among gravestones and between parked cars. The celebrities are Pacific golden plovers, our much-loved migratory shorebirds known in Hawaii as kolea.

While visiting Washington state recently, my friends took me hiking on Dungeness Spit, a National Wildlife Refuge poking 5.5 miles into the Pacific Ocean's Strait of Juan de Fuca.

One of the biggest pains about the ocean is salt. It corrodes the wheels on my sliding doors, rusts my boat's so-called stainless steel and makes my hair stiff and skin itch.

During my recent visit to the Portland Audubon House in Oregon, I fell in love with a turkey vulture named Ruby.

During my current road trip from Seattle to San Francisco, I stopped in this picturesque town at the mouth of the Columbia River to watch the cargo ships, trawlers and recreational boats I had glimpsed while crossing the river's 4-mile bridge.

While spending a few days in this town on the Olympic Peninsula, my friends took me to the Feiro Marine Center, where I fell in love with a giant Pacific octopus named Obeka.

My recent turtle and albatross columns, plus a fish bloom, prompted readers to email me some of their own encounters with marine animals.

Last week, in a muddy car rut puddle on the road to Kaena Point, I found one of the most amazing animals on the planet.

I was recently asked whether Laysan albatrosses were really nesting at Kaena Point. They sure are. The albatrosses there are one of Hawaii's best conservation success stories.

Everyone who cares about Hawaii's sea turtles will want to enter these numbers in their cellphones: Turtle Rescue: 725-5730 and 288-5685. I wish I had earlier.

I couldn't join the albatross-counting team on Midway this year, but my heart is there with the 14 volunteers and the million or so of my sweet feathered friends.

Coconut crabs got a lot of attention recently when residents found one walking down Salt Lake Boulevard. A thoughtful person coaxed the non-native animal into a box and notified authorities. When news of this got out, the crab became a celebrity.

You'll never hear me complaining about email. It used to be that writing this column was a lonely job. Now each day I get to drink my morning coffee with people who share my love of the ocean and its remarkable inhabitants.

The surf is up. The water is murky. It's windy, rainy and cold. I'm not complaining — Hawaii winters have their own splendor. But blustery conditions have been keeping me out of the ocean.

Can an electric eel kill a horse? The question came to me last week after a Vanderbilt University researcher published details about how South American river eels catch fish. The nearly sightless eel sends out two electric pulses that cause a hiding, motionless fish to twitch.

I don't write the headlines to my columns, but when I email one to the newspaper, I title it with a common name so the editors know what the piece is about. This week my subject gave me pause because it's known only by its scientific order, Zoanthid, a name that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

Why don't giant clams growing deep inside living coral heads get squished by growing coral?

Who knew that a poky marine animal the size of a snow globe could do such a stellar job of fighting aliens? The plodding heroes are collector urchins, a native species the state has been raising by the thousands and releasing in Kane­ohe Bay.

On the last day of my week in Palau, I asked five snorkeling companions to name their favorite part of the trip. The fact that we were evenly divided in our choices is testament to the wide variety of stunning marine life in this island nation of Micronesia. We were two for Ulong Channel, two for Jellyfish Lake and two for mandarinfish.

Soon after I started studying marine biology at the University of Hawaii, I arranged to take scuba lessons and set off to Wai­kiki to buy my gear.

Last week I visited one of the friendliest, most lovable families in Australia: the dolphins of Tin Can Bay. Even if a group of Indo-Pacific dolphins hadn't come to the shoreline each day to play with people and eat free fish, a visitor just has to stop at a place named Tin Can Bay.

After a weeklong passage from New Caledonia, Honu is safely in a marina on Queensland's south coast. Even so, my body thinks we're still at sea because I have "mal de terre," the French phrase for land sickness. This happens when the seas have been particularly rough.

Pacific Ocean, 22 degrees South, 163 degrees East » After sailing thousands of miles through the tropical Pacific, I'm no longer surprised by how few whales and dolphins appear offshore.

Signal Island, New Caledonia » As Craig and I sit on Honu in this marine preserve teeming with fish, snails and sea snakes, I only have eyes for dugongs.

I'm on the road again, my road being the Pacific Ocean and my vehicle being my old friend Honu. Craig and I bought the 37-foot French ketch in 1984 on the East Coast with the plan to sail it home to Hawaii. The first thing we did to prepare for the voyage was give the boat a Hawaiian name.

When Craig and I moved to Hawaii in 1983, we saw so many fantail filefish, we thought the species, found only in Hawaii, might be the state fish. The 7-inch-long fantails were easy to see and not just because of their striking colors.

A reader recently came across what she described as pulsating gelatinous creatures on the Kaiwi shoreline.

I recently received an email with the subject "Crab on V-land beach." (V-land, or Velzyland, is a North Shore surf spot.) Reader Bill Quinlan wrote, "I have attached two photos of a dead crab we found this afternoon.

Last spring in Tahiti, while preparing my sailboat for a South Pacific cruise, I took a break to go snorkeling with a little girl I met in the marina. The 9-year-old and I had a fine swim, and afterward we walked the beach, looking at the variety of objects the ocean had washed up.

In 1958 my mother went into labor during a Labor Day picnic. The pandemonium that ensued, ending with the delivery of a healthy baby boy, made such an impression on my 10-year-old mind that since then I’ve linked Labor Day with the labor of giving birth.

In 1981 I rented mask, snorkel and fins and, for the first time, gazed upon a coral reef. My impression: Such color! The swirling yellow, green, pink and blue fish looked like an underwater confetti toss.

A couple weeks ago, I had one of those days when my brain felt like an iPod shuffle stuck on fast forward. Deadlines, chores, errands, family and a hundred other things raced through my head until I finally gave up trying to work. Turning off the computer, I went for a walk in a nearby park.

Two weeks ago Craig and I, with about 40 others, attended our friends' wedding. We got ready for the ceremony and reception by dressing in shorts and slippers, donning hats and applying sunscreen. The event took place on a boat.

During a recent snorkeling excursion at Electric (Kahe) Point, my friend and I stopped to watch a fish fight. Even though we floated in clear water 20 feet above the artificial reef (the outflow pipe), the sparring was so fast and furious, it was hard to make out what was happening.

Big Island resident Michelle Chow emailed last week about an injury she suffered while surfing.

When marine biologists talk about boring worms, they don't mean uninteresting fish bait. They're referring to worms that bore into hard surfaces.

Would you write about the nearly invisible brown specks in the ocean that sting?" emailed a reader last week. "They travel in swarms. We encountered them at Pipeline recently. The stings result in itchy, red, round spots the next day. What are they, and are the stings treated with vinegar like jellyfish stings?"

Two friends, former Hawaii residents, visited from Oakland last week, and we hit all of Oahu's hot spots. Hot spots for fish watching, that is. Wild night life for us was watching TV until 10.

While snorkeling last week, I came across a 3-foot-long bluespotted cornetfish bitten nearly in half. Amazingly, the severely injured fish was swimming along just fine. Six days later I went snorkeling in the same area and couldn't believe my eyes.

Last week at UH-Manoa I met 45 cone snails, each living in its own saltwater condo. The healthy mollusks are safe from predators (rays and some crabs), receive catered meals with vitamin supplements, enjoy a regular cleaning service and occasionally get visits from a member of the opposite sex.

"Bone-eating snot flower." That's the enchanting name that inspired me to dive deep into a new book, "The Extreme Life of the Sea," by father-and-son team Stephen and Anthony Palumbi (Princeton University Press). The book arrived while I was sailing the South Pacific.

What happened with the customs officer in Tonga?" a reader emailed, referring to a comment I made in last week's column about a misunderstanding Craig and I had after arriving in that country by sailboat.

Craig and I have been traveling together for 34 years now, and at the end of each journey, he asks me the same question: What was your favorite part of the trip?

Maitre Island, New Caledonia » One of my goals in sailing to New Caledonia was to see and admire the many sea snakes that grace this area's reefs. One in particular answered the call. Honu wasn't tied to a mooring off this marine preserve an hour before I had one of my best sea snake experiences ever.

After writing last week about our cushy cruise from Fiji to New Caledonia on our 37-foot ketch, Honu, the Pacific Ocean rose up to remind us who's boss.

In 2006 my friend Scott helped me sail Honu from island to island across the South Pacific. "When I signed on for that trip," Scott says, "I imagined baking bread and reading novels under sunny skies in a gently swaying boat."

Officially Fiji consists of 322 islands, but if your definition of island includes underwater atolls, coral banks and partially submerged islets, the number rises to 844.

I know I'm in a good place when I have fin sores on my feet, and the mask grooves in my forehead are nearly permanent features of my face. Even in my sleep I know I'm in a fine place. The anchorages here have been so still that I awake thinking I'm home.

One of the most satisfying moments in a sailor's life is tying the boat to a safe mooring in a calm harbor after a long period at sea. Even a day after arriving here at Niue (pronounced NEW-ay), Craig and I are still high-fiving.

We're sailing from Tahiti to Niue, a tiny island country of about 2,000 people. Craig and I have been at sea on our 37-foot sailboat for more than a week now, sailing in brisk 20 to 25 mph southeast tradewinds.

Honu is once again moving west through the Society Islands. Although I'm happy to be sailing again, it was hard to say goodbye to Tahiti, with its jagged green mountains, friendly people and perfect french fries.

Last weekend I flew to Papeete because I left my sailboat Honu here in October to sit out the southern hurricane season. That being over now, it's time to pack the boat with brie and baguettes, cast off the mooring lines and sail on.

Parrotfish are grazers, scraping algae off rocks and dead coral, and sometimes eating live coral. Big parrotfish (Hawaii's largest, the spectacled, grows to 26 inches long and weighs nearly 15 pounds) have powerful jaws and strong dental plates that remove bits of coral skeleton as they eat.

I ended a book I'm working on with suggestions about what concerned citizens can do to help the oceans. One of my ideas is to walk the beaches and, while doing so, pick up trash.

I spent the last New Year's holiday with friends at their lake house near Austin, Texas. Due to prolonged drought, the water level in this man-made lake, created by damming a river in 1938, was so low that a good part of it was bone-dry.

During one of those muggy Kona weather days, I went snorkeling off Lani­kai Beach in water that was calm, clear and refreshing. I swam over the dense coral heads off the center of the beach, looking for fish and invertebrates to brighten my day.

One of my most memorable snorkeling experiences occurred several years ago in Tonga. The incident involved only one species, but that was the beauty of it. Thousands of identical, 6-inch-long, silver fish let me swim in their school.

To my Midwest-bred nose, the smell of the ocean hints of mystery, travel, adventure and romance. When I go to the beach, I take a deep breath and think, ah, love that salt air. But that's not salt I'm smelling.

False killer whales have a knotty name, but don't let the 19th-century label turn you off. There's so much to love about these animals that after attending whale researcher Robin Baird's lecture on them at Hanauma Bay last week, I wished I could throw my arms around the neck of a false killer whale and give it a hug.

Last week I attended a talk given by a federal biologist who, before her funding was cut, worked with Hawaii's anchialine shrimp, known as opae ula. Although these shrimp inspire nearly endless questions, I had a specific one in mind: Is it OK for a conservation-minded person to buy anchialine shrimp, sold in jars at Shi­ro­kiya and also online?

Hawaii's Pacific golden plovers, or kolea, get a lot of attention because they graze on lawns, have adapted to the presence of people and return to the same spot year after year.

When paddle-boarder Greg Gauget found a snakelike creature floating limp, but alive, off Maui's Baby Beach (or Puu­anoa Beach) north of Lahaina a few weeks ago, he did what few people would do: He went through exceptional efforts to save it.

While I was sitting on an airplane in freezing-cold Milwaukee last week, a burst of warmth came to me in an email from Andy, a Hawaii friend visiting Cali­for­nia.

Of all the things I find on the world's ocean floors and beaches, the round trapdoors of some snail species, called opercula, are high on my list of favorites.

One of my favorite activities during visits to the Puget Sound area is starfish gazing. At the ferry docks I'm in awe of the orange, purple and red starfish sprawled on the pilings like so many ornaments, and at my husband's family cabin on Orcas Island, I'm the first to don rubber boots at low tide and splash out on a sea star trek.

In a heartbreaking scene that made national news last week, 22 pilot whales died off Florida's Everglades National Park when they got stranded in shallow water.

In the past when someone mentioned Niihau shell lei, I wondered why the shells that washed up on Nii­hau beaches were special. Couldn't a person find similar shells on other island beaches? Which snail species grew the shells? Are people still making the intricate lei?

I have friends who think that because I swam with hundreds of sharks in the Tua­mo­tus last spring, I'm exceptionally brave. But I wasn't comfortable swimming with those sharks because I'm daring: It's because I've learned to tell one species from another.

Last week I hiked to Kaena Point, a daylong excursion (about a one-hour drive from Hono­­lulu, and a 5-mile round-trip hike). A few days later I got a text from a friend: "Hiking to Kaena Point. Wanna come?"

Last year, after I wrote my second column about snorkeling with sea horses, I got an email with the subject "Stop writing about Hawaii's seahorses!" The writer had also found a sea horse habitat and worried that if word got around about the locations of these rare fish, collectors would take them.

This is the time of year to watch for wedgies, otherwise known as wedge-tailed shearwaters.

Is it OK to feed the kolea in your yard? A member of the standing-room-only audience asked that of golden plover researcher Dr. Oscar (Wally) Johnson during his recent talk on these shorebirds.

Two weeks ago, several readers emailed me news stories about a snorkeler finding a dead, 18-foot-long oarfish near Santa Catalina Island, Calif. The woman and 15 helpers dragged the enormous fish to the island's beach for others to see and researchers to study.

We Hawaii residents love our kolea, the migratory shorebirds that nest in Alaska in summer and spend winters in the islands.

In August I received this email from a reader, Gordy: "If you are looking for pipefish, spend some time looking amongst the spines of the long spined sea urchin. … They hide in there looking for all the world like a spine and of course are well protected.

What was your favorite part of the trip?" my husband asked after we left our 37-foot ketch Honu in a Tahitian marina and flew home.

Part of the fun of a long offshore sailing trip is taking a break from grooming chores such as shaving. Men aboard Honu typically grow beards, and we women get fuzzy legs. After weeks of sun, salt and wind exposure, we also get flaky skin.

"Sail or sell?" That was the question a young couple we met in the Tua­mo­tus said they asked each other every morning during their voyage through the South Pacific.

UTUROA, RAIATEA, French Polynesia >> In 2006 I spent two weeks here aboard my 37-foot ketch, Honu, waiting for friends to arrive for a voyage to Australia. After hours of boat work each day, I would climb over the breakwater, don my mask and fins and go snorkeling among the coral heads.

TAHAA, FRENCH POLYNESIA » Here in the Society Islands, I swim with black-tipped reef sharks, free-dive on giant moray eels and float inches above venomous, spine-waving sea urchins, all without worry. But when I come face to face with a titan triggerfish, I pay attention. Snorkelers and divers do not mess with these mamas.

Society Islands, French Polynesia » My crew (husband Craig, niece Sarah and friend Brian) and I decided to sail Honu to Marlon Brando's island, Tetiaroa. Even if we couldn't get ashore, we wanted to see the atoll.

Moorea, French Polynesia » I've been playing with sea cucumbers. The way they lie around on the ocean floor, sea cucumbers resemble the vegetables they are named after, and are about as active.

PAPEETE, TAHITI » For days I admired a pipefish from the deck of my boat, Honu, in this marina where the water is gin clear to 50 feet. The 6-inch-long yellow-banded pipefish was a nervous little thing that spent much of its time hovering behind the rungs of a ladder attached to the dock.

PAPEETE, Tahiti » After a two-month rest at home on Oahu, I'm back in Tahiti preparing my 37-foot sailboat, Honu, for a six-week voyage through the Society Islands, part of French Polynesia.

I had a grand moment recently when I discovered a new fish. Well, not discovered discovered. Other fish enthusiasts know this species, but it was new to me and that made my day.

Last week I received an email from a reader who went for an early morning swim in Kaneohe Bay. "I looked down and saw what looked like a dozen or so snakes on the floor, maybe 15 feet deep," the unsigned note said. "Was I seeing things? Sorry, no pics. I just beat it back to the house that I am house-sitting this week."

While snorkeling on the North Shore last week, I found myself surrounded by an organism flashing so much bling I felt I was swimming through Tiffany's.

How do you tell a tube worm from a worm snail? Got a few hours? That's how long I spent reading last week after I wondered about these different marine invertebrates while sorting my underwater photos.

A rose is a rose is a rose — except when it's the egg cluster of a Spanish dancer. My recent column about that nudibranch and its roselike eggs generated some inspired email.

While waiting for my car to be serviced last week, I went through a stack of mail I had pulled from the box as I left home, and found a local marine guide I ordered. I put the book on my lap, and it opened to gobies.

From my Kailua neighbor Marya, who swims with mask and snorkel every morning before work, came this email:

Even with dozens of South Pacific visions dancing in my head, my own island still dazzles. During a Lani­kai beach walk at dawn last week — the first since my return — I watched great frigate birds and red-footed booby birds glide over my head, tripped over ghost crab sand pyramids and nodded hello to a dozen Homo sapiens come to marvel at sunrise on Oahu.

The first leg of my South Pacific voyage is over. It took me three months to outfit the boat in Mexico, sail to the Marquesas, explore the Tua­motu Archipelago and get Honu put up in a Tahiti marina. Now I'm going home.

FAKARAVA ATOLL, Tuamoto Archipelago » To pass the evenings at anchor here in the South Pacific's winter, Craig and I often watch movies on the boat's computer.

The hardest part of writing about the marine life here in the Tuamotos is staying focused. With turquoise water so clear I want to drink it, so warm I can snorkel for hours and so teeming with fish and invertebrates that I feel I'm living inside a South Seas aquarium, I change my topic every five minutes.

KAUEHI, Tuamoto Archipelago » With laundry done, the galley loaded with mangoes and a crew change (my husband, Craig, replaced friends John and Alex), it was time for my 37-foot boat Honu to sail on.

NUKU HIVA, Marquesas Islands » I have so many fish under my sailboat, Honu, that I can hear them from inside the cabins. At first the sounds were gentle splashes, but at dawn several loud bangs against the hull sent me flying out of my bunk to see what I hit.

TAIOHAE BAY, NUKU HIVA, Marquesas Islands » Twenty-six days after leaving Mexico on my 37-foot sailboat, Honu, I dropped anchor in a bay so stunningly beautiful I felt I had landed in the middle of a movie set.

Latitude 8S, Longitude 138W, Day 26 » I am typing these words with water-wrinkled fingers in a sailboat rolling so hard side-to-side that I can barely stay seated.

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