Sunday, July 31, 2011

A New Addition

We have a new addition in the hawaiian household, a baby Jackson's chameleon. I really wanted to name it Leon, because of chame'leon', but since its a girl (we think) we went with the more hawaiian name of Leona. She is about two and a half weeks old, born on July 12th.
Heidi and I searched for chameleons in the wild here on Maui but it turns out they are very hard to find. Then we got in touch with Cory who finds them on occasion doing yard work higher up on the slopes of the volcano. He saved a female chameleon and housed her with a male for about six months until one day he came home to find fourteen tiny baby chameleons crawling around the enclosure! Leona was one of these.
We brought her home yesterday evening and set up a little cage with sticks and leaves for her to climb on. We will mist the leaves a few times every day so she can get her water from the droplets, just like she would in the wild. We had to buy pinhead crickets instead of the bigger crickets because Leona is so tiny, about the size of Heidi's pinky.
Once we got her home she crawled around quite a bit and then worked her way to the top of the cage where she hung upside down...all night. She wasn't eating but we figured it was just her way of acclimating to a new environment.

Then this morning, while Heidi was on the phone with her parents, Leona snagged her first meal in her new home. All I saw was a nearby leaf move and Leona chomping away at something in her mouth! I was very relieved. Then we were very excited to see her continue to catch and eat at least five more pinhead crickets!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Search for the Wreck of the Carthaginian

I had heard stories about the general whereabouts of the wreck of the old Carthaginian, a 2 masted brig that was used as a floating museum in Lahaina. Certain dive companies run trips to the wreck but the inner explorer in me wanted to go find this on my own. So with Heidi's help, we loaded all of our dive gear, strapped down our 2 person kayak, and drove towards the west coast of Maui with high hopes of finding this sunken tall ship.
When we arrive at our planned launching spot we found ourselves surrounded by eager surfers...and larger than expected waves. We studied the launching area for a while, rocky beach only a few feet exposed, waves crashing on the beach and surfable waves crashing farther out sending white water in, and no clear channel to paddle out. Up and down the coast it was the same story, so not to be deterred, we packed our dive gear into the kayak, put on our wetsuits, and prepared to launch, hopefully in between sets of the bigger waves. It was a little sketchy at first with the heavily loaded kayak, but after getting lined up and punching through a 3 foot wave we made it out into calmer water...on our way!
The water became bluer and bluer the farther we paddled offshore. Pretty soon we were working up a sweat paddling in our wetsuits but closing in on our hopeful dive spot. I had a pretty good idea where the wreck might be but it turns out that luck was on our side. The water was so clear that as we neared the spot we could see the shadow outline of the wreck from ontop of the water. I was surprised, since the wreck sits on the ocean floor in almost 100ft of water! There was a submerged mooring ball that the dive companies must use so we attached our kayak and jumped in. Ready to have the wreck dive all to ourselves.
There is just something about wreck dives that transports you to an eerie other world. Having spent so much time working on a tall ship it was very cool to see things on the wreck that took me back to that time in my life. The Carthaginian was sunk in Dec. 2005 and the ocean has definitely taken its toll on the ship. The masts fell over only a few weeks ago.

Wreck dives tend to attract not only adventurous SCUBA divers but also a wide range of unusual marine life. One of the fish that Heidi and I had been searching for unsuccessfully was rumored to take up residency on the Carthaginian. The frogfish is one of the most well camouflaging fish in the world. Take a look at these pictures and think how easy it would be to swim right past this fish. Heidi found this frogfish on the starboard side near the bow and excitedly banged her noisemaker to get my attention. I was so excited. Even when I was taking pictures it was hard to see where the frogfish began and where it ended. Look closely for the eye with its many radial lines and for the huge downturned mouth that it uses to suck in its prey with one of the fastest reflexes of any known animal.

During our dive we had visitors...which doesn't happen to often on a dive. Especially not like this! The Atlantis submarine which runs trips out of Lahaina motored by the wreck checking it and us out. Happy, dry tourists inside flashed their cameras and Heidi and I waved swam by. It was wild to see such a clean and functioning boat right next to a dilapidated wreck, side by side on the bottom of the ocean.

As we neared our decompression time limit we slowly ascended, flying above the wreck taking it all in. We followed our mooring line back up towards our kayak. Along the way to stopped to check out a couple of small nudibranch on the line and to our delight another frog fish! This one was all black, a juvenile, or a slightly different species called a Sargassum Frog Fish. It looks like a tiny sea monster although it probably though Heidi was a sea monster in the next picture!

Heidi and I both surfaced with big smiles and an eagerness to explore more of Maui's underwater treasures.

Wildside of Molokai

I had only seen the island of Molokai from the air when Lea, Heidi, and I flew over it on our helicopter tour. Seeing the island up close from a boat and actually getting to jump in the water was a dream come true. The Northwest coast of Molokai boast the largest sea cliffs in the world, over 3000ft tall. Now add waterfalls cascading down these cliffs into the water and you have some movie quality scenery. You may even recognize some scenes from Jurassic Park from the same coast line.
Some small fishing shacks were all the evidence seen that some people are still living the old style native Hawaiian lifestyle here on this wild coast of Molokai. Lush valleys housed countless generations of Hawaiians for centuries before the lure of a new way of life took all but a few families out from this peaceful existence.
Seeing these cliffs from the water was pretty awe inspiring but it only made me want to see what beauty lay beneath the waves. True to my adventurous spirit when we all needed a swim break I tossed on my snorkel gear and grabbed my camera as we jumped in at a huge offshore rock islet called Elephant Rock, or Mokuhooniki. You can see from the pictures that the visibility was stunning. I kept waiting for something big to swim by. This is where the famous hammerhead scuba dive is which is very high on my to do list. Strong current, big waves, offshore conditions, and a treacherous channel crossing from Maui make this site all but closed except to a few intrepid explorers. I have a feeling that I will be back.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dolphin Research

I have been splitting my time here at Pacific Whale Foundation between being a naturalist out on the snorkel and whale watching boats and working as an assistant researcher with the research staff. We have been working with sea turtles and odontocetes (toothed whales) like our different dolphin species and false killer whales.
Yesterday we took the research boat out to track down one of the resident pods of spinner dolphins. We found them right off the bat. A few had very distinct notches on their dorsal fin which we can use to photo identify individuals. We even spotted a new born swimming very close to its mother. If you look very close at the top picture you can see the baby spinner dolphin surfacing just on the left side of its mom.
The beautiful blue offshore waters of Maui really do provide the perfect habitat to study offshore marine animals.

Night Dive at Ukumehame

Entering into an underwater twilight realm with my dive buddy Karen at Ukumehame Beach was a totally different experience than my usual dives. Different animals come out and the daytime usual suspects head for cracks and crevices in the reef to bunker down for the night. We didn't find any Manta Rays which have been known to frequent this reef but we did see some new creatures for me.
From top to bottom: Divided Flatworm which contains the same poison as pufferfish; a female Marbled Shrimp in nighttime coloration; a Stripey; and the beautiful view we had before making our descent.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Glowing from Within

On a clear, sunny morning Heidi and I went scuba diving at one of our favorite nudibranch hunting spots, Wailea Point. The beach has golden sand, palm trees, and lots of tourist from the nearby resorts but the real treasures are underwater. Kicking out to the rocky point to the left of the beach the reef begins very shallow and extends farther out to a depth of around 40ft. Big coral covered boulders give us plenty of places to search for hard to find reef creatures.

On this dive we were under for an 1hr 14minutes and came across two octopus, moray eels, peacock razor wrasse, and lots of juvenile butterfly fish. We passed a fuchsia flatworm early on in the dive and I thought we might not find any new nudis until this Gold Lace Nudibranch floated right by my face as I was checking out a cavern.

The colors on these sea slugs are just amazing. It looks like it is glowing from within. It is easy to identify with its interlocking golden pattern and speckled black gills and rhinophores. It is amazing that nudibranchs can be so hard to find even though they are so brightly colored. I guess it is good camouflage for a brightly colored reef scape.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tidepool Treasures

Heidi and I went tidepooling at a secret spot on the North shore of Maui yesterday and were very surprised with how much we found. The rocky point at low tide was a perfect place to find deep tidepools that could sustain life during even the lowest of tides. The usual suspects were all there, long zebra blennies darting into their holes, juvenile convict tangs frantically looking for hiding places, and gobies perfectly blending into the sand and rubble. But then Heidi noticed a couple of her favorite invertebrates, the sea hare! You can see how small they are compared to her hand and how beautiful they are in the close up shot above. This is a Lined Sea Hare. They eat a blue-green algae that gives them a build up of toxins in their body which can be harmful to human eyes but is of interest to medical researchers.
Then we were very excited to find a bubble shell (the beautiful blue snail with yellow spots). This is a cymbal bubble shell. These snails do have a shell but its perfectly transparent which allows the beautiful green, white, and orange animal to show through. They also feed on blue-green algae and can sometimes bloom by the thousands. I had only seen a couple of these creatures in tidepools up until now. There must have been 30 or 40 just where we looked!

Then something you never expect to see in a tidepool...or at least laying next to a tidepool, a Hawaiian Monk Seal! This is one of the rarest animals in the world. Only a 1000 or so exist and most of those are around the North-West Hawaiian island chain. Around 200 Hawaiian monk seals live around the 8 main Hawaiian islands and sighting are so rare that there is a special hotline the you call whenever you see one. This is only the second time that I have been able to call that hotline. This is an adult female just basking and resting away near the tidepools. And hour and half later the only sign of movement was that she rolled a quarter of the way over, like a sun tanning beauty rotisserie style.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Nudibranch Heaven

Heidi and I went on a pretty adventurous scuba dive into breaking waves and murky water in order to find some of the more elusive species of marine life. We made it out of the murky water once we hit about 20ft deep and that is when the nudibranchs, or underwater slugs, started appearing. Unlike slugs on land, nudibranchs are highly sought after by underwater photographers for their beautiful colors and unusual body shapes. You can see the frilly parts on top of the nudibranchs which are their exposed gills. If you look closely at the top picture you will notice the lack of exposed gills...that's because it's not a's a flatworm!

From top to bottom: Fuschia flatworm, White Margin Nudibranch, Tom Smith's Nudibranch, and a Kangaroo Nudibranch

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Honolua Bay, Maui

I am still finding new places to snorkel and scuba here on my island of Maui. I had a chance yesterday to get in a quick snorkel of Honolua Bay and you can see from the pictures that it is a snorkelers paradise.
From Top to Bottom: A panaromic overlook of Hanolua Bay in all of its glory; A stout moray peeking out of its crevice; a green sea turtle getting cleaned by some surgeon fish; Jon blowing a bubble ring that nears perfection; and the last two are of a massive school of big eye scad lit up by the afternoon sun.