Basking Data

April 2019 Basking

Basking exploded upward in April, with Laniakea hosting 51 more basking appearances than occurred in March and 35 more than were recorded in April 2018.  That puts us 50 basking occurrences ahead of this time last year!  A total of 112 separate instances of basking occurred in April compared to 77 in 2018.  That’s the most in April since 2011 when 154 hauled out and the 3rd highest number since Malama na Honu began recording detailed basking records in January 2009.

In April, there was only 1 day when no turtle came out of the water. The last month in which that happened was June 2018. Last year, we suffered 3 days without a turtle and in 2017 there  were 8 such days.  Over the past 12 months, we’ve had at least 1 turtle haul out on 76.4% of the days.

It has been a much longer time since we had a month when a turtle came out every day. (i.e zero (0) days without a turtle on the beach). That last happened in September 2013.

During April there were 16 different named turtles that hauled out onto the beach to bask.  That is 5 more than last month and 2 more than last April. This month we had only 1 unidentifiable turtle visit either the beach or the “shelf” area.

Our “top three” baskers for April were JP with 16 appearances, Punahele with 14 (the most times she’s ventured out of the water in a single month, ever) and Kekoa with 12.  Two more, Wooley-Bully and Olivia-Dawn, were out more than ten times with 11 appearances each.  Only 5 different turtles basked 10 or more times in a single month all of last year. In April, we had 5 all in one month! That’s extraordinary!

April had multiple turtles out 27 different times with April 24th experiencing the greatest exodus from the water with 8 honu hauling out onto the beach.

Of our 20 “active” turtles, 80% of them hauled out in April.  All of our 12 month “top ten” baskers appeared on the beach this month. Specifically, Hiwahiwa, Olivia-Dawn, Oakley, Keoki, Kekoa, JP, Maka Nui, Mana, Punahele, Makana, Kaimana, Sapphire, Wooley-Bully, Missy, Kulihi and Kaipua all graced our shore with their presence during April.

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 2019, there are 20 turtles actively basking at Laniakea, 5 adult males, 8 adult females, 5 sub-adults and 2 juveniles.

Overall basking totals for 2018 for the Honu `Ohana were the highest since 2014, the last year our champion basker Brutus was still in residence.      

Our “top ten” individual baskers for the past 12 months were

1) JP86
2) Kekoa85
3) Olivia-Dawn67
4) Kaimana65
5) Punahele50
6) Hiwahiwa48
7) Kulihi42
7) Oakley38
8) Makana38
10) Maka Nui34

...and the bottom 3 were:

18) Tripod3
19) Isabelle2
20) Hilahila2