Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins

All photos Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

One of the truly special and amazing things about living along the Kona coast is being able to see Spinner Dolphins (Stenella longirostris) frequently and at close range. These mammals are essentially nocturnal, feeding in the deep waters of the open sea at night. As daylight breaks, many of them seek sanctuary in shallow bays and coves for the specific purpose of resting. Upon entering a bay the dolphins exhibit their trademark behavior of leaping out of the water and spinning on their long axis up to seven times before crashing back into the water. If you are in the water during this period, you can hear their distinctive clicks and whistles. However, within an hour or so, they settle down. They stop leaping and vocalizing as they enter their rest cycle.

This rest period is critical to the health and well-being of the dolphin. They are negatively buoyant (they sink instead of float) and they don't breathe automatically like we do. As such, dolphins sleep one hemisphere of the brain at a time. The hemisphere that remains conscious keeps the dolphin swimming (so it doesn't sink) and surfacing (so it can breathe). This makes it appear that the dolphin is active and awake. Despite appearances, the dolphins are sleeping and need to remain undisturbed during this time.

Dolphins are beautiful and graceful animals that elicit strong feelings in people. Seeing them in the wild is exciting and simply incredible. If you are lucky enough to be in the water when they pass by, you feel a sense of awe and wonder as well as a feeling of being truly privileged to see such a beautiful sight.

The bond people have for dolphins is not always a good thing. Often they are mobbed by swimmers and kayakers as soon as they enter a bay and are either driven away or deprived of sleep. Some people also have "unique" ideas about dolphins, ascribing to them spiritual and even extra-terrestrial characteristics and powers. This leads them to do odd and harmful things to dolphins such as pressing crystal amulets against them and trying to physically "bond" with them. A few years ago, there was a woman at Honaunau who would swim topless with the dolphins, attempting to rub her breasts against them. It wasn't pretty. It takes all kinds, I guess. I encourage anyone reading this to use a common-sense approach with dolphins. They are powerful, wild animals with numerous, big teeth that live in an environment that humans are not well adapted to. And, regardless of some people's fantasies, they can be aggressive and injurious to humans as well as to each other. Respect them and they are likely to respect you.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dive Report for Sunday 9/27/09

Surf on the south side of Honaunau Bay

King of the Seven Seas

For three days we've had big surf from the North and West, pretty much making shore diving a miserable prospect. But today the waves were greatly reduced in size and I had a pleasant pair of dives @ Two-Step, Honaunau. The southern end of the bay was still getting a pretty good shot of surf so I stayed mostly northward. Visibility was ~50' which is pretty good considering all the surf! No big sightings for me today. Did notice a population boom of Yellow Tangs with babies everywhere. Also lots of black phase Longnosed Butterflyfish pairs. Today I took my grandson's Aquaman action figure (It's NOT a doll, Okay?) on my dives and took some photos of it with the reef for background. It was fun and Jacques got a big kick out of seeing the pics up on the computer screen

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day Octopus

For me, the octopus is the most fascinating animal in the ocean and each encounter is a special treat. What other creature can change its shape, color and texture with such ease? An octopus can slither across the seafloor like a puddle of quicksilver or shoot through the water column like a jet. It can disappear into a crack smaller than one of its arms and cover its escape with a cloud of ink. Beyond all this, octopi are remarkably clever and seem to be very curious about divers. Sometimes we'll see one withdrawal into its lair as we approach. But, if we linger out of its line of sight, it will rise up to look for us, telescoping its eyes to an almost comical extent. There are several species of octopus found along the Kona coast but the Day Octopus (Octopus cyanea) is by far the most frequently seen by divers. As the imaginative common name implies, it is active during the daylight hours as opposed to most octopl which are nocturnal. Normal size is a span of around three feet and a weight of 4-5 pounds. However, recently a spearfisherman made the local paper by bagging a monster that weighed in at a whopping 16 pounds.

All photos Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

The photos in this post are all of the same octopus taken just moments apart. This particular octopus was watching me as I was trying to photograph another one hiding in the reef. You can see how the color and texture can change. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Divided Flatworm

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

On land, slugs and worms are generally unattractive and, to some tastes, repulsive and vile. In the marine environment, however, they can be quite beautiful with dazzling colors and dramatic patterns. Generally speaking, such coloration is a warning to would-be predators that this is a toxic creature and should be avoided.  Such is the case with the divided flatworm which is extremely delicate and lacks any other form of defense yet roams freely on the reef in broad daylight, unmolested. Most individuals have the branching pattern shown here but some have irregular blotches. All divided flatworms have the double yellow line down the center much like the centerline of a divided highway, hence the common name (not really). These are small creatures usually around an inch in length.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Giant Moray

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

One morning, while swimming out to a dive site in Keauhou Bay, I saw a dark, writhing mass on the seafloor below. I couldn't make out what it was, but it resembled a really big octopus. I decided to start my dive at this spot and see if I could get close enough to ID whatever this thing was. As I descended, the mass slithered under a coral head and temporarily out of sight.   After reaching the bottom, it didn't take long to find out what the mystery creature was. Looming out of the reef was the head of the unimaginatively named Giant Moray (Gymnothorax javanicus).  Although this species of eel has been characterized as being  aggressive, this particular individual was well-mannered and allowed me to photograph at close range. The literature says this eel can reach a length of eight feet and a weight of 77 lbs. This specimen was definitely close to that size. It is rare in Hawaii although I saw one in Honaunau Bay around two years ago. I've also heard of a huge moray at the dive site called "Pipe Dreams" near the Natural Energy Lab. 

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Right Place, Right Time

Betty and I live a 10 minute drive from a dive site called Two-Step at Honaunau Bay. I have dove this site between 700 to 800 times. People often ask if I get bored doing the "same dive" over and over. Well, it's never the same for me. Each dive is unique and the ocean always has something new to offer if you're looking in the right direction at the right time. The eel pictured here is a good example. This is a Dragon Moray which is very rarely seen in the main Hawaiian Islands. They are abundant in other parts of the Pacific, but not here. We found this one on a weekend morning on a coral head we've looked at many, many times in the past. On this day, I saw a little unusual movement , approached slowly and was treated to this unexpected sight  This is small specimen, but its pattern was bright and vivid with bright orange and white offset by black and brown. The jaws on this eel curve so much that the mouth is incapable of closing completely. Fleshy sensory appendages resemble horns, completing the dragon-like appearance. All that's missing are legs and maybe wings, if that's how you like your dragons!

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

Anyway, we had a nice long encounter with this individual and got to take lots of photos. I looked forward to further "photo sessions" as we knew the exact location of his lair. However, this was not to be. We visited the area time and again, searching high and low but never again saw our dragon moray. This is the nature of life on a coral reef. Things swim away, get eaten, change hide-outs or whatever. We don't leave a department store never to return again because we've seen everything they've got. Likewise, the ocean "re-stocks" frequently and it' never hurts to drop in and see what's new!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bonus Honu Photos

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

Here's some extra honu photos for your perusal. The middle photo is of the same young turtle that was in the previous post.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

There are few, if any, spots along the Kona coastline where  green sea turtles cannot be found. Although considered an endangered species, their numbers have recovered dramatically in Hawaii. Despite their heavy armor, they swim gracefully and, at times, surprisingly fast. The Hawaiian term for this creature is honu and it figures quite prominently in local folklore and tradition. 

SCUBA divers encounter honu frequently and the large reptiles tolerate human presence well as long as divers swim gently and don't crowd them. In the early morning, turtles can be found sleeping under coral ledges or in depressions in the reef. Often they can be seen at cleaning stations where tangs and surgeonfish clean the shells and skin of algae. Like all reptiles, they breathe air and a person watching the waves roll to shore will often see a turtle head rising from the surf for a quick gulp of air.

The combination of large size and usually languid pace make honus wonderful subjects for underwater photography. Even after ten years and hundreds of encounters, I still can't help but take at least a couple of shots when a turtle comes in range, The photo above is my all time favorite. The lighting worked out unusually well with the ambient light above balancing the external flash from the side. the subject is a relatively young individual with almost pure white skin between the plates on her neck and flippers (mature turtles have yellowish-brown skin). She afforded me plenty of photo ops as she glided overhead and seemed to play in Betty's bubbles. It was one of those magical moments underwater when you feel more connected than usual to the world around you. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

Today I wanted to share with you a photo I took a couple years ago of an unusual sighting.  This is a pelagic jellyfish (Thysanastoma sp.) that I saw early one morning. When I first saw it ,I was about thirty feet below it and couldn't make out what it was. As I got closer. it became apparent that this was a good-sized jelly with a vivid purple and blue bell. I took many photos but this is my favorite with the early morning sun illuminating the water above.  Jellyfish are pretty uncommon on the Kona coast. My wife and I saw only one other of this type and it was much smaller. While we watched, a green sea turtle zeroed in on it and ate it up. We've also seen crowned jellyfish a couple of times. Over on the south shore of Oah'u they get monthly box jellyfish outbreaks that correspond to the lunar cycle and a lot of people get stung. That's not the case here on the Big Island.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hawaiian Longfin Anthias

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

We see this bright little fish regularly at our favorite dive site, "Two Step" at Honaunau. This is a male and he boldly swims over his coral head seemingly unperturbed by the presence of divers. He has a little harem of three small females which tend to stay huddled under the coral head. This is an endemic species found only in Hawai'i and is about three inches in length. That's my wife, Betty, in the first photo.

That Went Well!

Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

Well, I just viewed my first post and now I am filled with hubris over my ability to follow simple instructions! Anyway, before I call it a night, here is a close-up of a manta ray with a small Hawaiian cleaner wrasse giving it a once-over

Aloha, World

  Copyright 2009 by Barry Fackler

Aloha and welcome to my humble blog. I plan to post often about what it is like living on the Kona Coast of Hawaii's Big Island and SCUBA diving every weekend (almost). Along the way I'll keep you updated about general diving conditions and weather, local diving news, anecdotes from ten years of diving in Kona, and maybe some thoughts on life in general. I also hope to share my attempts at underwater photography, modest as they may be. It may take me some time to get the hang of blogging but I will give it my best shot!

Above is my first photo download to this blog. I'm pleased! This is a photo of a manta ray taken earlier this summer in Keauhou Bay. Kona is well known for it's manta night dives. These are somewhat orchestrated events where dive operators set up powerful lights on the seafloor. The lights attract zooplankton (just like lights on land attract bugs), which brings in the mantas which feed on the plankton. Divers sit on the bottom and get treated to a very close encounter with the giant rays. Occasionally they get shut out but not very often. Some nights over twenty mantas show up. I've been on plenty of manta night dives and they are worth the money, especially if you're on vacation. Personally, I prefer to go to Keauhou during the day where you have a pretty good chance of seeing mantas as they cruise around cleaning stations where small wrasse rid them of parasites and loose tissue. The advantages are: viewing and photographing in daylight as well as saving a lot of money by not taking a boat ride. The disadvantages are: climbing over jagged lava rock to make a shore entry and not having divemasters and boat crew to bail you out if you encounter trouble. I suppose if you're visiting, going out with a dive operator is the safest option and the one with the greatest chance of success. But if you live here, the shore entry is a nice way to have a big animal encounter with minimal cost.