Basking Data

September 2019 Basking

September continued the normal downturn pattern in basking over the course of a calendar year with fewer turtles appearing on the beach than last month... but not many fewer!  That said, there were 60 basking occurrences compared to 63 in August.  As it was for last month, this was our  most active September since 2013, the last September our beloved Brutus basked at Laniakea.  While we were down 3 appearances from August (63), our increase of 15 over last September managed to put us 35 basking occurrences ahead of last year at this time.  That is significant given that as I write this, we have already surpassed last October’s total for this year.

In September, there was only 1 day when no turtle came out of the water. During the past 5 years (2014-2018), September has averaged 8 days with no turtles out.  For the previous 5 years (2009-2013) the average was less than 2 (again, Brutus was still with us)! Over the past 12 months, we’ve had at least 1 turtle haul out on 76.2% of the days.

During September there were 12 different named turtles that hauled out to bask.  That is 1 fewer than both last month and last September. This month we had no unidentifiable turtle visit.

Our “top three” baskers for September (4 with a tie for third place) were Makana with 11 appearances, Kulihi with 9 and both Maka Nui and Kaimana with 6 each.  

September had multiple turtles out 16 different times with September 6th and 29thexperiencing the greatest exodus from the water with 6 different honu hauling out onto the beach on each of those days.

All of our 12 month “top ten” baskers appeared on the beach in September. Overall, Hiwahiwa, Olivia-Dawn, Kekoa, JP, Maka Nui, Punahele, Makana, Kaimana, Wooley-Bully, Kulihi, Oakley and Kaipua graced our shore with their presence.

Unfortunately, this month is the 3rd in a row that becomes a potential milestone in the membership of our basking `ohana.  July saw us reach the one year mark in not having Hilahila (part of the class of 2015) appear on the beach.  Last month, Tripod (first appearing in 2004 or 2005) passed that same mark and September has seen Isabella (first appearing prior to 2003) and Hao (joining in 2010 as Hao`okanaka) added to the group that has not been sighted at Laniakea in over a year.  Isabella is known for accumulating large numbers of barnacles, once counted at well over 100. Hao had to undergo a name change because the English translation of her original name, Ironman, was no longer appropriate when “she” matured into a female turtle.  Hao also had an unfortunate run-in with a watercraft in 2015 that, while it left her shell severely scarred, apparently did not cause any permanent damage.   

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) JP83
2) Kaimana74
3) Punahele72
4) Olivia-Dawn65
5) Kekoa64
6) Maka Nui60
7) Makana55
8) Hiwahiwa49
9) Oakley35
10) Wooley-Bully32
10) Kulihi32

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

14) Sapphire10
15) Mana8
16) Missy2