August/September 2023, YE 2022 & Historical Basking Data
August/September 2023 Basking Narrative
In August, we had 88 basking occurrences by 14 different turtles at Laniakea! That was 5 months in a row, we had over 80 honu haul out in a single month. Not since 2013—that’s a DECADE ago—have we had that prolific a turnout of basking at our beach during a calendar year!
TIME OUT for some historical perspective.
Basking at Laniakea has fluctuated over the years that we have kept records. From 2009 through 2013 we averaged over 1,000 (actually 1,066) basking occurrences per calendar year, with our high mark in 2011 of 1,239 occasions when a turtle hauled out. The next 5 years (2014 through 2018) saw a significant decline, with the “average” dropping to 620 and a “low mark” of 507 total appearances in 2017.
Currently, we fluctuate in the 600’s and 700’s and are actually ahead of last year through September by 95 and should end up in the mid 700’s this year (didn’t quite make it to 700 in 2022…ended with 690).
In 2012, we had 6 months in a row over 80 (all 6 were actually over 100!) Then, a year earlier in 2011, we had 9 months when we had over 80 turtles out and 7 months with over 100! Our monthly average was 103.25. Quite a turn-out.
September basking showed a significant, but NOT unexpected, drop in haul-outs, down to 58…but the total was still 1 more than last year.
August saw only 1 empty beach day while September saw 4. For 2023, we’ve had 6 fewer days without seeing a turtle haul out.
During August there were 14 different named turtles that came ashore at least once and September saw 13 named turtles. That’s 1 more than last year in August and 2 more in September.
Our “top 3” baskers for August were Kulihi with 9 appearances, and Wooley-Bully and Makana with 8 each. For September, JP took top honors with 12, Kulihi hauled out 9 times and Makana 7.
Kanoa, who took over in June as our yearly (12 consecutive months) “most frequent basker,” again retained that status in September with 88 appearances on the beach in the past year (24% of the days of the year) but Kulihi fell back into third place with 79 while JP leaped into second place using his 12 appearances this month to get to 83 for the past 12 months. Only 4 different turtles appeared on the beach on over 20% of the days as Olivia-Dawn dropped below the mark at 19.7%. Kanoa, Kulihi, Makana and JP all remained over 20.0%.
For the 12-month period October 2022 through September 2023, turtles hauled out onto the beach 785 times on 303 days (83% of the days).
August had multiple turtles out on 23 of the month’s 31 days, with the greatest exodus from the water happening on the 1st, when 9 different turtles hauled out. In September, 4 different turtles hauled out on 5 different days…the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 13th and 30th.
The 14 different named honu that appeared on the beach at least once in August were Hiwahiwa, Olivia-Dawn, Oakley, Wooley-Bully, Punahele, Kekoa, Kulihi, JP, Kaimana, Kaipua, Makana, Maka Nui, Kanoa and Kai.
The 13 different named honu that appeared on the beach at least once in September were Hiwahiwa, Olivia-Dawn, Oakley, Wooley-Bully, Punahele, Kekoa, Kulihi, JP, Kaimana, Kaipua, Makana, Maka Nui, Kanoa.
Year End 2022
In 2022, we saw 690 basking occurrences (a turtle hauling out onto the beach 1 or more times on a given day) and 758 “incidents” of basking (includes multiple appearances by the same turtle on a single day). Included in the above numbers are 14 sightings of unidentifiable turtles (not named and deemed recognizable and, hence, not part of the `Ohana (i.e. family)). One of those turtles hauled out twice in one day. Therefore, officially, the “`Ohana” experienced 676 basking occurrences and 743 incidents of basking during 2022. (see the 1st, 2nd & 3rd charts in the “Historical” section of charts for details on individual basking).
In regard to the “unidentifiable” turtles, while we had no additions to the `Ohana in 2022, we twice had activity that could signal possible additions in the future. Several times in our history a turtle has stopped by a couple times in months previous to becoming a consistent basker at Laniakea. Kanoa was the last turtle to do this, basking once in June 2020 and twice in July 2020 but not becoming a “regular” basker until April 2021. This year we had one turtle bask 3 times in one month and another bask three times in one month and twice in another. Neither has been seen in the last couple months BUT…we’re watching!!
Overall, 7 turtles basked more, 8 basked less and 4 that basked in 2021 did not bask at all (i.e. that’s 12 that actually basked less). That explains right there why we had fewer total basking occurrences this year compared to last year.
Hao was the most significant non basker. Having returned in May 2021 from a 31 month hiatus, she basked on 2 out of every 3 days she was around (87 different times on 67 separate days) but left again in August. She has not returned. Sapphire, one of the “original” regulars to bask at Laniakea, was last seen on December 3rd, 2020 and is now on Hiatus. She accounted for 17 fewer basking occurrences. Mana, a somewhat irregular basker over the last few years, that is known to hang out between Mokuleia and Ka`ena Point when away from Laniakea, was last seen basking on March 2nd, 2021. She basked only 7 times in 2021 and not at all in 2022. Ho`omaka, the last addition to the `ohana and only added at the request of NOAA, has only ever been recorded as basking 2 times at Laniakea in September, 2021. She has not returned since. Those 4 turtles alone account for 93 or over 40% of the shortfall in basking for 2022.
The other `Ohana members falling short in beach appearances during 2022 were Hiwahiwa (-1, and she migrated to nest at FFS and was away over 3 months, so she was actually basking at an increased rate over last year), Oakley (-22), Wooley-Bully (-25), Punahele (-15), Keoki (-38), Kekoa (-17), JP (-14) and Hilahila (-4). Those shortages equal -136 and combined with the non baskers’ total equal -229 for 12 turtles.
On the positive side of the ledger were, most notably, Makana and Kulihi. Makana basked 78 more times in 2022 than in 2021, enough to earn this turtle the “most frequent basker” title for 2022 with 106 beach appearances. Kulihi, the owner of that title in 2021, added 19 basking occurrences to his total to get to 102 times out of the water and also exceed the elusive 100 times basking mark for the calendar year. During the year, in March, Kulihi for the first time exceeded the 100 appearances in 12 months mark and Makana first got to it in December. Only 6 others have reached that mark in the history of Mālama I nā Honu, Brutus (was over 200 many times), Olivia-Dawn, Punahele, Kuhina, Hao and JP.
The other turtles contributing to the upside of basking were: Olivia-Dawn (+8), Kaimana (+21), Kaipua (+22), Maka Nui (+4) and Kanoa (+36). Overall, there were 7 turtles with a total of +188 more basking occurrences this year.
Our statistics also take into account the distinct differences in the basking habits between the turtles that bask on the “beach” at the north side of the venue and the turtles that bask on the “shelf” on the south side near the lifeguard station. (see the 4th through 9th charts for graphic details regarding times hauling out and duration of time spent on the beach).
The “beach” turtles as a rule noticeably come out of the water later in the day and stay on the beach longer than the honu that bask on the “shelf.” This observation is also borne out statistically. The average time spent on the beach by the 10 beach turtles in 2022 was 3 hours and 14 minutes during 489 incidents of basking. In comparison, the 5 shelf turtles spent only 2 hours and 34 minutes on the beach in 254 incidents of basking. In addition, only 15.6% of the beach turtles exited the water before noon while 38.6% (almost 2 ½ times as many) shelf turtles hauled out in the morning hours.
The 10 “Beach” turtles (Hiwahiwa, Olivia-Dawn, Oakley, Wooley-Bully, Punahele, Kekoa, Kulihi, JP, Maka Nui, and Kanoa) accounted for 120 fewer basking occurrences in 2022. The 5 “Shelf” turtles (Keoki, Hilahila, Kaimana, Kaipua and Makana) mostly due to Makana’s miraculous increase in hauling out, came in 79 baskings ahead of 2021. Net difference…-41. Most of the shortfall came from the beach group while the shelf turtles kept us from falling further behind in our yearly total.
In regard to the full spectrum of time, 62.3% of beach turtles started their basking between the hours of 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm and shelf turtles hauled out 60.0% of the time between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm.
With respect to the duration of time “beach” individuals spend on the beach in a single incident of basking, they ranged from 4 minutes for Kanoa to 11 hours and 13 minutes for Kulihi (sunrise to sunset). For shelf turtles, those single basking incidents ranged from 5 minutes for Makana to 11:03 for Kaipua. The range of “average duration of time out of the water” for our “beach” turtle individuals is 1:30 for Kanoa (in 63 incidents) to 4:55 for Kekoa (in 59 incidents). On the “shelf,” individual basking incidents ranged from 47 minutes for Hilahila (12 incidents) to 3:35 for “old timer” Keoki, though Keoki only basked once and hence his figure is not definitionally actually an “average.” Next in line is Makana who has a real “average” of 2:39 in an `Ohana high 136 incidents of basking.
For turtle viewing purposes, it is interesting to note that, more than half of the turtles that exit the water are still on the beach when the sun sets. Overall, 53.3% of basking occurrences result with the turtle still on the beach at sunset. It comes out a little different when the stats are broken down between “beach” and “shelf” turtles. Beach turtles stay out past sunset 61.8% of the time while Shelf turtles only stay out 34.9% of the time.
Another interesting aspect of turtle basking is to see more than one turtle out on the beach at the same time. Every month in 2022, we had at least one day with 3 or more turtles up. We also had 5 months with at least one day of 6 or more up, 4 months with at least one day with 7 turtles or more up and 2 months with at least one day with 8 turtles resting peacefully on the beach.
Individually, 2 turtles stayed overnight at least once. Kulihi stayed the night 5 different times during the year and Kanoa did so once. Kanoa was also recorded as exiting the water AFTER sunset on 2 occasions and there is reliable information that such has happened more often but not actually recorded (and 3 such incidents have already been recorded in 2023). Long ago (her last appearance at Laniakea was in July of 2012, over 10 ½ years ago), we had an active member of the `Ohana named Mahina (that’s Hawaiian for “Moon”). She was so named for her penchant for coming out at night, while the moon was out. Can’t help but wonder if we’ve developed another “night” basker?!?
Several additional items of interest occurred during 2022. First and foremost was Hiwahiwa migrating to the French Frigate Shoals to nest. This was the 4th time she’s migrated, also making the over 1,000 mile round trip in 2002, 2010 and 2017. Less time has elapsed between each nesting experience. She left Laniakea Beach near sunset on April 9th and did not return until 1:15 pm on August 19th. The full story of her migration can be found in her section under “Meet the Honu” on this website. Unfortunately, Hiwahiwa must have misplaced her calendar in December. She did NOT bask at Laniakea in December which was the very first time in our recorded history that she did not bask in a month other than one in which she was in the process of migrating to or from the nesting grounds! She did return January 3rd, so all is well with L-2 again.
Only 15 of our turtles actually basked during 2022. In both July and August, 13 of those turtles came out of the water to bask (that’s 86% of this year’s active turtles in 2 different months). In July, we missed Hiwahiwa who was away nesting at the French Frigate Shoals and Keoki who only basked 1 time all year in March. In August Hiwahiwa was back but Oakley failed to show (and of course Keoki missed again).
Makana and Kulihi were mentioned earlier as reaching the 100 appearance in 1 year plateau together in December (and that carried over into January 2023). What helped them get there was a monster month of basking for each. Makana basked on 18 different days in June. While this is not a record for 1 month (that’s held by Brutus at 25 on at least 3 different occasions and Isabella once). However, 18 is A LOT OF BEACH TIME in a month. Only 6 turtles (Brutus, Hao, JP, and Scallop multiple times and Isabelle and Sapphire once each) have ever basked more in a single month. While Kulihi, also a prolific basker has never reached 18, he has basked on 15 separate days in a month in 3 years in a row!
Finally, December saw an empty beach on only 9 days. December’s 9 empty beach days was the first time since 2013 that there were less than 10 such days in a December.
Historical Basking Narrative
(see the “Historical” section of the Basking Charts for graphic representation of some of this info)
After a “time out” from being able to compare the year-to-year activities of our Honu `Ohana in 2020, a full year of statistics from 2021 will at least allow us to compare the current activity of our turtles back to 2019, the last year for which we have a full year of stats and the year during which we “officially” had the most basking occurrences since 2014, the last full year Kuhina had basked (107 times) at Laniakea (that year, Brutus’ last partial year, he also had basked 64 times in 4 months). Prior to 2014, yearly basking regularly had numbered over 1000 occurrences as Brutus normally basked over 200 times per year and Kuhina over 100.
The year 2019 had represented a major upturn in Honu basking (741 baskings) since Brutus’ and Kuhina’s departures as we experienced an increase in basking occurrences for the second year in a row. This was the first time in our reliable recorded history back to 2009 that this had happened! That record still stands (“officially”) as the COVID pandemic hit in 2020 and Laniakea Beach (as well as all other beaches on the island) were closed for all or part of 5 months (March, April, May, August and September – a total of 123 days), preventing Mālama i nā Honu from fulfilling not only its educational mission but also its monitoring and recording of basking activity during those periods of time. Hence, though it is entirely possible that basking numbers exceeded 741 in 2020 (we believe they did!), any records to actually confirm this do not exist.
We can speculate all we want (and we will do so directly) about the degree of basking that took place in 2020 and whether or not it would have resulted in a third straight year of increased on shore appearances of our turtles; pandemic beach closures for what amounted to over 1/3 (one third) of the days of the year prevent us from really knowing for sure.
So… let’s digress and relate some conjecture for a moment. For 2020, we have complete monthly records for 7 months (January, February, June, July, October, November and December). During those months, 417 basking occurrences were recorded by volunteers. If we look at the “unrecorded” months (March, April, May, August and September) and use the average basking occurrences of those months from the year before and the year after 2020, (i.e. 2019 and 2021) and add them to the 417, we get 806 basking occurrences! Considerably more than 741! If we were to use the same procedure for both the 5 years before 2020 and the 5 years before plus the 1 year after, we’d calculate that out to 764 and 769 respectively. Hence, it seems extremely likely that had we been able to record basking activity for all 12 months of 2020, that we would have indeed achieved an increase in basking occurrences for a third year in a row.
In 2021, 733 occurrences of basking took place at Laniakea, 717 by named members of the `Ohana and 16 by random “visitors” that stopped by as they passed through the area. That represents a -1.08% decrease (a net total of 8 less) compared to 2019 but still 11.4% more than appeared in 2018. We currently “track” 19 turtles (there were 20 in 2019), 14 that bask primarily on the “beach” (north side of Laniakea) and 5 that bask primarily on the “shelf” (south side of Laniakea near the lifeguard station). There have been exceptions to this “separation,” but they are few and far between.
Overall, 9 turtles basked more in 2021 than in 2019 and 11 basked less (yes, that’s 20 but one of the 2019 turtles is currently on hiatus at this writing!). Of those on the plus side, 6 were with us in 2019, 1 that had been on a long hiatus starting before 2019 (for over 2 1/2 years) and 2 new turtles that joined the `Ohana in 2021. Hao, formerly one of our more frequent baskers, returned in May after an absence of 31 months. More on her later. Kanoa joined the `Ohana in April (but with recorded appearances back to June of 2020) and Ho`omaka in September (based on reliable information from NOAA that this turtle has basked at Laniakea and other beaches for some period of time). One turtle, Missy, that basked in 2019 has not shown up since May of 2019 and is now included on our Hiatus list.
Since there are distinct differences in the basking habits of turtles that bask on the beach side of the venue and those that bask on the shelf side, we’ll next discuss some individual turtles’ 2021 activity based on where they bask. On the “beach” side of the venue, Hao, our returnee from a hiatus, registered the biggest increase in basking appearances over 2019 (when she didn’t appear on the beach at all) with 67. Kulihi basked 56 more times in 2021 than in 2019. Kanoa, in this honu’s first partial year of basking, hauled out 20 times. Hiwahiwa, Sapphire, Wooley-Bully, and newbie Ho`omaka also recorded increased activity during 2021. On the “shelf,” Keoki (17) and Hilahila (12) were the only turtles that increased their basking activity in 2021. (See the first 3 charts under the “Historical” section of charts for details on individual basking).
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, more than half (58.3%) do so between 12:00 noon and 3:00 pm. This is the same time period during which most turtles hauled out back in 2019 (50.2%). When broken down between beach and shelf groups, the beach group matches the “overall” time period for exiting the water but the shelf group comes out most of the time beginning with the 11:00 hour and reaches 60.3% of its water exits by 2:00. These are also the same time periods for this breakdown recorded in 2019. (The 4th, 5th and 6th charts in the “Historical” section specifically details this analysis).
Another interesting aspect of turtle basking is to see more than one turtle out on the beach at the same time. Every month in 2021, we had at least one day with 5 or more turtles up, 7 months with 6 or more and one day in May with 9 turtles resting peacefully on the beach.
Individually, 4 turtles stayed overnight at least once 6 different times during the year (Wooley-Bully 2, Kulihi 2, Kekoa 1, & Hao 1).
In regard to the duration of time individuals spend on the beach, they ranged from 5 minutes for Hiwahiwa to 11 hours and 2 minutes for Kekoa (sunrise to sunset). The range of “average duration of time out of the water” for our “beach” turtles is 1:30 for Kanoa (in 20 appearances) to 4:55 for Kekoa (in 59 appearances). On the “shelf” they ranged from 47 minutes for Hilahila to 3:35 for “old timer” Keoki.
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 2021 there were 717 separate appearances by members of our `ohana and 16 unidentified turtles. Discounting the unidentifieds, there were 380 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 (52.9%) and very similar to 2019’s percentage (50.3%). At least one turtle was on the beach at sunset on 220 separate days. Even though over half of the turtles that haul out onto the beach are still around at sunset, nightfall DOES NOT trigger them to suddenly go back into the water. Mālama i nā Honu’s records show that less then 1.1 percent (that’s a single digit number) of the turtles on the beach at sunset return to the water before it gets dark!
During 2021, several noteworthy events took place. The most important was the return of Hao! No other `Ohana member has ever disappeared for over 2 ½ years and returned to the fold. Not only did she return, but in the process basked more times during the month, on 23 days, than she had ever basked in a month before. Her previous high was 20 times. In June, she continued her return tour with another 18 appearances, continued her prolific return with another 20 basking appearances in July and stayed around for 6 more beach visits through August 13th. Now she’s gone again! During her brief stay of 102 days, she was on the beach 87 different times on 67 different days and stayed to sunset 35 times. Hao has a history of going on hiatus. She was away for 9 months June 2016-February 2017 and for 14 months June 2017-July 2018. She’ll be back…we’ll be watching and waiting!
During July and August, we noted aberrant behavior in our O`hana overall, in that far fewer than the normal number of turtles began their basking activity during the morning hours. Over the past 10+ years, over one quarter (27%) of our basking turtles have appeared before noon. July of this year was an aberration, with only 9.5% of the honu coming ashore in the AM hours. This was the lowest percentage of morning baskers since September 2013 when only 7.9% emerged from the ocean in the morning. An exodus from the water of less than 10% in the morning hours has only happened 5 times over this period. The same thing happened again in August when only 5 turtles emerged from the ocean in the morning, amounting to only 7.5% of the turtles that basked. Only once, in September 2011, has a smaller percentage (6.0%) of our baskers been “morning turtles.” In addition, it is only the second time during this time period that less than 10% of our baskers avoided the morning hours for 2 months in a row. On both of those occasions, the percentages of morning exits over the 2-month period were almost identical (8.60% this year and 8.55% in August/September 2013). After a return to the “normal” range of morning water exits in September, the numbers again fell back in October but not under 10%. Since then, the numbers have again returned to a more normal range of over 20%.
December saw 16 days without any turtle on the beach. The 16 “turtle-less” days were the most we’ve suffered since January 2018 when there were 18 days without a turtle exiting the water. The worst basking months in Mālama i nā Honu’s recorded history (since 2009) were January and November of 2016, when 24 days of each month saw no basking activity (i.e. a turtle only came out of the water on 7 days in January and 6 days in November)! It should also be noted that even with the dearth of turtles appearing in these two months, 2016 was far from our worst basking year overall. In 2016 we saw over 150 more basking occurrences than our absolute worst year (2017) when a turtle only appeared on land 507 times.
For calendar year 2021, turtles hauled out onto the beach 733 times on 275 days (75.3% of the days). The previous equivalent period for which we have statistics that we can report is calendar year 2019, which saw 741 basking occurrences on 287 days (78.6% of the days).
Overall, even though total basking was down ever so slightly from prior years, 2021 was nevertheless a positive year for the Laniakea `Ohana. A turtle long on hiatus (Hao) returned for a short, but basking intensive, visit and two new Honu (Kanoa and Ho`omaka) were added to the `Ohana during the year. We’re anxious to see what 2022 has in store.