Basking Data

March 2022 & Historical Basking Data

March 2022 Basking Narrative

 

March 2022 saw 79 basking occurrences, 28 more than February and 22 more than last March.  We will, unfortunately, still have to wait until January 2023 until we can compare a full calendar year to the prior one and until October 2022 until we can compare a current 12-month period with the same time period of the immediately prior 12 months.

The significant increase in March basking put the first three months of 2022 well ahead of last year’s total at this point by 26.  In 2021 through March, there had been 131 separate appearances by turtles on the beach.  This year a turtle has hauled out on 157 occasions.  Definitely a good start for the year.

March saw only 4 days without any turtle on the beach, the same number of days as last month. In 2021 there were 9 such days without any basking activity, more than twice as many as this year. We have no monthly statistics for 2020 as governmental beach closings began on March 15th and lasted through May.  Another round of closings also compromised August and September statistics for 2020.

During March there were 12 different named turtles that came ashore. No unidentifiable turtle stopped by for a visit for the fourth month in a row.

Our “top 3” baskers for March were Kulihi with 15 appearances, Makana with 11 appearances, and Hiwahiwa with 10. This is the same “top three” as last month.

The 15 appearances for Kulihi in March allowed him to achieve something that only 5 other turtles have achieved in the history of basking at Laniakea.  Over the preceding 12 months (a period of 1 year in length), Kulihi has basked on over 100 days (actually 103 days, only made more significant by the fact that he DID NOT bask at all in December or January)!  Only Brutus, Kuhina, Olivia-Dawn, Punahele and JP have basked that much during a 12 consecutive month period as long as records have been kept.  Of the turtles that still bask at Laniakea, Olivia has done it once, Punahele twice, and JP 11 times (all consecutive separate 12-month periods).  As for our long gone friends Brutus and Kuhina, they were each in a class by themselves.  They both started basking long before we kept complete records (Brutus in 1999 and Kuhina at Christmas of 2007) but in the over 11 years of our reliable statistics, Kuhina reached the 100 mark three times more than he missed it and Brutus hit 200 baskings (yes, that’s more than half the days of the year) more often than Kuhina got to 100!

For the 12-month period April 2021 through March 2022, turtles hauled out onto the beach 759 times on 288 days (78.9% of the days).  The previous equivalent period for which we have statistics that we can report is April 2018 through March 2019, which saw 673 basking occurrences on 277 days (75.9% of the days).

March had multiple turtles out on 18 different occasions, with the greatest exodus from the water happening on the 21st, when 8 different turtles hauled out.

The 12 different named honu that appeared on the beach at least once in March were Hiwahiwa, Olivia-Dawn, Wooley-Bully, Punahele, Keoki, Kekoa, Kulihi, JP, Kaimana, Kaipua, Makana, and Kanoa.

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Historical & Year End 2021 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.

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.    

The year 2020 was unconventional to say the least.  While basking started off with a "bang" in January (72 basking occurrences were recorded--far in excess of the norm), the COVID-19 Pandemic hit in March and disrupted humanity!

O`ahu's beaches were officially closed for 2 entire months (April and May) and parts of 3 others (March, August and September).  There were a total of 123 days when our volunteers could not legally monitor turtle activity.  Only 16 of the 20 turtles we normally expect to bask at Laniakea appeared during the times the beach was officially open.  In all, there were 473 basking occurrences among the 16 turtles that made appearances during the 243 days the beach was open.  Hence, it is likely that there were in actuality over 700 basking occurrences during 2020... but we'll never know for sure!

A return to some degree of normalcy beginning with beaches re-opening in September of 2020 allowed Malama na Honu to conduct its education and turtle monitoring programs for the full year in 2021.  While total basking was down slightly to 733 occurrences, anything over 700 at this time has to be considered a positive outcome for any year.  In addition to good numbers, we added 2 new turtles to the `Ohana, Kanoa in May and Ho`omaka in September.  Also in 2021, we welcomed back Hao, a turtle that began its tenure at Laniakea in 2010, suffered the trauma of a serious boat strike in late 2015 and began being absent from Laniakea for longer and longer periods in 2016.   The latest hiatus that lasted 31 months, ended in May 2021 when Hao returned for 102 days (she's on hiatus yet again now) and basked 87 separate times on 67 of those days.

2020 Basking- 1/1/20-3/15/20, 6/1/20-8/8/20 & 9/24/20-12/31/20 (beaches were closed to the public & Malama na Honu for 123 days when no activity could legally be recorded)