Basking Data

September 2020 & Historical Basking Data

September 2020 Basking Narrative

September was currently our second month in a row where beach access was either not permitted or restricted due to governmental action intended to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, thus inhibiting our ability to record Honu baskings in a manner that would be comparable with other months where we had daylong beach coverage. Previously, March through May had been similarly affected. Hence, July is the most recent month for which we have reliable data

July was not as good as June for the number of turtles basking, but was still much better than last July. In fact, July basking occurrences not only were 18% higher than we had in July 2019 (i.e. 71), but (tied with July 2017) it was the busiest July we’ve had since 2012 when a turtle hauled out of the water 129 different times! In July there were 84 different appearances on the beach by our turtles. In June, there had been 88. For the 4 months for which we have “official” records (i.e. comparable with prior years), that puts us 95 basking occurrences (47.2%) ahead of last year in those 4 months. The turtles seem to enjoy basking without hoards of gawking humans around!

In July there were only 3 days when no turtles graced our shore. That is the same as last month and last July.

During July there were 14 different named turtles that hauled out to bask. This number is up from the prior year when we had only 12 different turtles out. This month we had unidentifiable turtles haul out 4 times.

Our “top 3” baskers for July were Kulihi with 12 appearances and Kekoa and Makana tied with 11 each.

July had multiple turtles out 22 different times with the 8th experiencing the greatest exodus from the water with 7 different honu hauling out onto the beach that day.

The 14 different honu that appeared on the beach in July were: Hiwahiwa, Olivia-Dawn, Wooley-Bully, Mana, Kekoa, JP, Hilahila, Maka Nui, Makana, Kaimana, Keoki, Kulihi, Sapphire and Kaipua.

At this point, due to beach closings and hence, our inability to have a legal presence on the beach all day, every day for over half of the months of this year, no meaningful figures comparing 2020 to 2019 exist.


Historical Year End 2019 Basking Narrative

(see the “Historical” section of the Basking Charts for graphic representation of some of this info)

Basking frequency at Laniakea took a distinct downturn in 2014 and 2015 with the disappearances of first Brutus (who had basked around 200 times per year) and then Kuhina (who hauled out 100 times or so annually). While we may never get back to the levels of 2013 and prior, the year 2019 represents a major upturn in Honu basking as we recorded an increase in basking occurrences for the second year in a row (and actually this was the first time in our reliable recorded history back to 2009 that this has happened!).

In 2019, 741 occurrences of basking took place by turtles that hauled out onto our shore.  That represents a 12.6% increase from 2018 and 46.1% more than appeared in 2017.  Even so, 2019 was an “odd” year.  We currently “track” 20 turtles, 14 that bask only on the “beach” (north side of Laniakea) and 6 that bask only on the “shelf” (south side of Laniakea).  Overall, only 7 turtles basked more in 2019 than in 2018 but the ones that did, basked so much more than last year that we ended up 83 basking occurrences on the plus side even with 3 turtles not showing up at all!

On the “beach” side, Punahele basked 64 more times in 2019 than in 2018.  Maka Nui, in this honu’s first full year of basking, hauled out 40 more times, Olivia-Dawn appeared 7 more and Sapphire one.  Missy was our worst performer, showing up 32 fewer times than the year before.  Overall, the beach side had 4 turtles that increased their basking, and 10 that decreased (including 2 that never showed up at all….. Isabella and Hao).

On the “shelf,” Kaimana increased basking by 49 appearances, Makana by 36 and Kaipua by 12. On the downside, Keoki and Hilahila were short of last year and Tripod was totally absent.

Our statistics also tell us about comings and goings and the duration of time on the beach.  Looking at the `Ohana overall, of the turtles that haul out, slightly more than half do so between 12:00 noon and 3:00 pm.  When broken down between beach and shelf groups, the numbers change.  The beach group comes out slightly later and the shelf group earlier.  At the beach, 52.8% of the basking starts between 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm whereas on the shelf it starts 64.2% of the time during the 3 hour period beginning at 11:00 am (and almost gets to half between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm with 47.4%).

Another interesting aspect of turtle basking is to see more than one turtle out on the beach at the same time.  Every month in 2019, we had at least one day with 5 or more turtles up and one day in each of April, May and July with 8 turtles resting peacefully on the beach.

Individually, 4 turtles stayed overnight at least once 9 different times during the year (Wooley-Bully 4, Kulihi 2, Punahele 2, & Sapphire 1), with Punahele recording the earliest sunrise time at 5:49 am.  Other than sunrise, Hiwahiwa clocked the earliest time out of the water at 7:30 am.  The latest to emerge from the water was Oakley at 6:15 pm.  Median times out for all the turtles (i.e. the mid-point in recorded times with half of the emergences occurring before that time and half occurring after) ranged from 11:23 am to 3:12 pm.

In regard to the duration of time individuals spend on the beach, they ranged from 0:02 minutes for Hiwahiwa to 13 hours and 22 minutes for Punahele on the day she “clocked in” at 5:49 am at sunrise and stayed on the beach through sunset.  The range of “average duration of time out of the water” for our “beach” turtles is 1:58 for Maka Nui (in 61 appearances) to 4:21 for Oakley (in 36 appearances).  On the “shelf” they ranged from 1:15 for Kaimana (with more than half of 83 appearances under 45 minutes) to 3:45 for “old timer” Keoki on 22 visits.

While we cannot reasonably monitor a turtle’s time on the beach after dark, we do measure how often a basking turtle stays past sunset.

During 2019 there were 735 separate appearances by members of our `ohana and 6 unidentified turtles.  Discounting the unidentifieds, there were 370 times that a turtle that had hauled out (no matter what time of the day) was still on the beach at sunset.  That was more than HALF the time (50.3%).   

History of Basking at Laniakea

On the Ides of March, 1999, a solitary male green sea turtle hauled himself out of the ocean at Laniakea Beach to bask in the sun. Later named Brutus by Malama na Honu, he is part of the vanguard of a relatively small number of sea turtles that, for reasons yet to positively be determined, come out onto dry land to rest and get warm.

Individuals from no other species of sea turtle or any of the other 10 “discrete population segments” of green turtles (Chelonia mydas), engage in this activity in the same way it happens in Hawaii.  These turtles crawl out of the water of their own volition.  Turtles in a couple other places sometimes find themselves washed up onto shore by wave action and stay on dry land for a period of time before returning to the water, but apparently nowhere else do male and female adults, as well as subadult and juvenile turtles purposely exit the water because they themselves have decided to do so.  The sight is incredible!

Over the ensuing years, more green turtles (Honu in Hawaiian) have found their way to this and many other beaches in Hawaii.  Their presence on these beaches has become a legitimate tourist attraction. At Laniakea alone, over a half million people come to the beach to view these turtles basking each year.  This puts the turtles in jeopardy of being harassed and tormented by unthinking humans.

Subsequent to Brutus’ initial foray onto the beach, by 2003 there was a total of 9 honu venturing onto land (besides Brutus (m) there was Hiwahiwa (f), Sapphire (f), Olivia-Dawn (f), Isabella (f),

Oakley (m), Wooley-Bully (m), Mahina (f) and Squirt (m)).

By 2005, the Laniakea family (`ohana in Hawaiian) had added 7 more (Genbu (m), Missy (f), Mana (f), Pukalani (f), Scallop (m), Honey Girl (f) and Tripod (m)).  At that point there were 16 in all coming out.

Malama na Honu came into existence in late 2007 as a successor to a George Balazs initiative at NOAA called “Show Turtles Aloha” and “officially” took charge of recording, monitoring and protecting a total of 19 basking honu. (Punahele (f), Nohea Kamakana (m) and Kuhina (m) had joined the group by then.)

For 9 years, the `ohana at Laniakea had grown steadily but 2008 saw tragedy strike.  Pukalani was apparently taken by a tiger shark at the nesting grounds at the French Frigate Shoals in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and humans maliciously butchered Honey Girl as she peacefully basked overnight on the beach.  Although Laniakea lost 2 turtles in 2008, Kaheka, a subadult, was added to the rolls to bring the basking total to18.

2009 saw one new turtle choose the rocky shelf area at the southwest portion of the beach to begin basking.  It was large enough to be an adult female so it was named ”Clawdette” for the claw shaped bite apparently taken out of the left rear flipper by a tiger shark.   Clawdette though, was large for “her” age and a late ”bloomer.”  After disappearing from the beach for over a year at the end of 2012, this turtle returned in March of 2014 with a long thick tail! The honu was quickly renamed Keoki (George in Hawaiian).

In 2010, 3 new turtles began their tenure at Laniakea, Kekoa (sub), Kulihi (m) and Hao`okanaka (sub).  Hao`okanaka was originally named “Ironman” for famous surfer Andy Irons who tragically died that year. When it was discovered that the turtle was a female, the name was shortened to ”Hao” or “iron” to preserve the honoring but make it gender neutral.  At the end of 2010, the `ohana was at its most populous point with 22 actively basking honu.

Beginning in 2011 the population began to thin out. This year saw 2 turtles leave Laniakea to bask elsewhere (Nohea Kamakana and Squirt…though Squirt stopped by for 20 minutes, we assume by mistake, in January 2014).  Mahina appeared for the last time in July 2012, Scallop in November 2013 (after being treated by a NOAA veterinarian for severe injuries from a boat strike), Brutus in April 2014 (which really affected our overall basking numbers because he had basked with extraordinary frequency—sometimes 24-25 days a month), Genbu in June 2014, Kuhina in March 2015 and Kaheha in June 2015. Those losses would have left the group with only 14 active baskers, less than the number that were gracing Laniakea with their presence 10 years before.

Fortunately, 2015 also began a resurgence in new baskers. That year 4 new turtles, all sub-adults or juveniles, began coming ashore between March and June.  JP, named for Joanne Pettigrew, the founder of Malama na Honu, first appeared in March, Hilahila in April, Kaimana in May and Kaipua in June.  Two years later in 2017, Makana (juv) joined the group and Maka Nui (juv), Big Eyes in English for its demeanor when it first appeared on the beach, began hauling out at Laniakea in August 2018.

As of the beginning of 2020, there are 20 turtles actively basking at Laniakea, 5 adult males, 8 adult females, 5 sub-adults and 2 juveniles. However, several have been absent for over a year and may soon have to be added to our hiatus list.

The overall basking total for 2019 (741 occurrences) for the Honu `Ohana was the highest since 2013, a year when our champion basker Brutus was still in residence. There were 1036 basking occurrences that year.      

Our “top ten” individual baskers from March 2019 through February 2020, the last full consecutive 12 month period for which we have reliable records

1) Punahele109
2) JP84
3) Kaimana82
4) Kekoa76
4) Makana76
6) Olivia-Dawn73
7) Maka Nui64
8) Hiwahiwa48
9) Oakley43
10) Kulihi36

...and the bottom 3 of those actually hauling out during the year:

15) Mana4
16) Missy2
17) Hilahila2