Archive for the ‘Marine Life’ Category

Thanks, Kermit

March 9th, 2014

Kermit the monk seal with National Geographic crittercam mounted on his back at White Plain Beach in February 2014. Photo courtesy Barbara Billand, Monk Seal Foundation volunteer.

Kermit the monk seal with National Geographic crittercam mounted on his back. Photo courtesy Barbara Billand, Monk Seal Foundation volunteer.

First of all, let's say thanks to Kermit the monk seal for giving us a peek into his under-ocean life.

Kermit, an approximately 20-year-old male monk seal who hangs out on the leeward side of Oahu, is part of a three-year National Geographic crittercam project conducted by NOAA Fisheries. The camera was mounted on his back between Feb. 7 and 14.

Students in Castle High School teacher Dani Padilla's marine science class got to get the first peek at footage gathered from Kermit's crittercam in February. You can get a peek, too, via this link courtesy National Geographic and NOAA Fisheries.

While five groups (of about four students each) watched 30-minute video clips, the project will gather more than 200 hours of footage to pore through (swimming, sleeping, playing, eating). The students are enlisted to help scientists put together a short video to present to the community as well as to be the future voice of monk seals.

It's a great idea — taking science out of its "scientific research bubble" and out into the community.

"I think the main takeaway for my students was the first hand experience watching un-touched footage," wrote teacher Dani Padilla in an e-mail. "They got to DO rather than be told. They were not just having the 'facts' fed to them through the grapevine. Instead, they were the ones collecting the data and watching a monk seal pass up hundreds of fish before he decided to eat anything...."


Castle High School teacher Dani Padilla with students as they examine footage taken from the National Geographic crittercam mounted on Kermit the monk seal's back. Photo by Craig Kojima.

Only about 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals, known as ilioholoikauaua (dog running in the rough seas in Hawaiian) remain in the isles today, with their population in decline. They are a native species found only in Hawaii, and protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act. The state of Hawaii considers the intentional harm or killing of a seal a third-degree felony.

Now, back to Kermit. You can't help loving Kermit when you see him. Monk Seal Foundation volunteer Barbara Billand, who provided the courtesy photo above, admits he's her favorite of the many monk seals she keeps tabs on. He's often found at White Plains Beach, snoozing in the sun.

"He's a very cool seal," she said. "Very laid  back, a gentleman."

Monk seals can live between 25 to 30 years, dive for an average of 6 minutes when feeding and eat a varied diet of fish, octopus, crabs, shrimp and lobster. They grow up to seven feet long and weigh 400 to 600 pounds. They can also travel long distances.

While the monk seals may not be keen about having these crittercams attached (who knows what they would say if they could?), NOAA scientist Charles Littnan said in a Feb. 12 FB post that the new technology will provide valuable data about their foraging behavior (more than satellite tags and scat analysis can offer) as well as their habitat. It also offers potential solutions for fisheries.

It can also help dispel myths about the critically endangered monk seals, one of them being that they consume a lot. First-hand footage can show, rather than just tell the community these facts. "I'm not trying to create love for the seals," said Littnan, "Just knowledge, with the facts."

Here's a great link to Hawaiian monk seal myths vs. facts.

If you're interested in learning more about Hawaii's monk seals or volunteering, check out the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program's Facebook Page. If you see a monk seal sleeping on shore, do not approach, touch or feed it. If you see one in distress, call 888-256-9840.

Mother and baby whale

March 3rd, 2014

Capt. Dave Anderson of Dana Point, Calif., captured this beautiful footage of a mother and baby Hawaiian humpback whale off the waters of Maui during a recent trip in February. Stay tuned to the second half of this five-minute video, which starts with a dolphin stampede in Dana Point.

He captured the footage by drone – or quadcopter — during a vacation on Maui. The mother and baby approached his boat off Maui, says Capt. Dave, and he made sure to maintain a respectful distance while capturing the footage.

"Putting it together the way I did will, I hope, raise awareness of these animals in a way that hasn't been done before," said Anderson, owner of Capt. Dave's Dolphins & Whale Watching Safari.

Anderson, who produced the documentary "Wild Dolphins & Whales of Southern California," also says it shows the great potential drones can have for wildlife filmmakers. He's excited about the possibilities the new technology can offer.

"I have not been this excited about a new technology since we built our underwater viewing pods on our whale watching boat," he said.

Three days after getting a quadcopter, Anderson said he was filming the dolphin stampede off Dana Point, Calif. He also captured some beautiful footage of a gray whale, but had a mishap in which he lost the quadcopter after it nicked an antennae and dropped in the water. Now he makes sure to put a flotation device on his quad.

There is also footage of three gray whales migrating down the coast off San Clemente, Calif.

On Maui, he said he parked his boat a distance from the mother and calf to watch them, spending pretty about a half day out there. A male escort whale was also out there, watching after the pair. He deployed his quadcopter (a DJI Phantom 2 with a small GoPro) four times — at 15-minute intervals each.

From the surface, it looked as if the mother was diving down and leaving her calf behind. From the drone, Anderson saw that the mother whale was just resting right under the surface of the water, with the calf hovering nearby.

"They were just interacting with each other in such an intimate way," he said. "I think the most beautiful part of that film is what I shot in Hawaii."

Anderson, a whale watch captain with nearly 20 years of experience, also warns others to only attempt filming by drone if familiar with whale behavior and laws. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association  is currently reviewing drones and their use around whales.

Learn more at

Saving Waikiki

February 12th, 2014


Volunteers are welcome to help remove three types of invasive algae from the reef behind Waikiki aquarium during public beach cleanups scheduled from February through October.

The Waikiki Aquarium recently received a $43,951 Community Restoration Partnership grant to continue its Waikiki Coastal Restoration efforts and research. The alien algae — Acanthophora spicifera, Gracilaria salicornia and Avrainvillea amadelpha — choke the reefs and crowd out native limu. They're considered a marine menace and threat to the beauty of Waikiki.

Beach cleanups will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15, as well as on Saturdays, March 29, May 3, June 28 and Oct. 25.

"This grant allows us to further engage the public in our conservation efforts, which is a very important goal for us in 2014," said Aquarium director Andrew Rossiter. "We encourage everyone who has an interest in the ocean to join us for a rewarding Saturday morning out on the reef."

Volunteers will first  be trained on how to differentiate between invasive and native algae plants followed by hands-on removal experience on the reef using snorkels, paddleboards and buckets. Dr. Celia Smith and her team from the University of Hawaii Botany Department will provide the training. Starbucks and Diamond Bakery are providing coffee and snacks for volunteers.

Waikiki Aquarium's volunteers have removed thousands of pounds of invasive algae from the reef behind the aquarium over the decade in an effort to protect the native marine plants.

Other organizations, including Malama Maunalua, have also worked hard to remove invasive algae from Maunalua Bay (which stretches from Diamond Head to Koko Head) in East Oahu, with hopeful signs that the bay is being restored. Malama Maunalua also offers volunteer opportunities. On the windward side, a Super Sucker, a mobile underwater pump-vacuum, is used to remove invasive algae from Kaneohe Bay.

To voluteer for the Waikiki Coastal Restoration program, call the aquarium's volunteer office at 440-9020 or visit

A monk seal pup to start the year

January 14th, 2014


Monk seal pup P01 near his mama, Honey Girl (R5AY) on Kauai. Photo by Lesley M.

Monk seal pup P01 near his mama, Honey Girl (R5AY) on Kauai. Photo by Lesley M.

Happy news! We have the official birth of the first Hawaiian monk seal of the year, born Jan. 10 near Turtle Bay on Oahu's North Shore. Thanks to the Monk Seal Foundation for posting the video by Lesley Macpherson on Facebook.

The baby monk seal (P01) is the pup of Honey Girl (R5AY) who was rescued after a hooking incident in November 2012 near Sunset Beach on Oahu. Not only has she survived, but she's given birth! Monk Seal Foundation volunteers have been doing all they can to make sure both mom and pup are protected while educating visitors at the site.

Honey Girl beat the odds by surviving a serious injury, which is why the Hawaiian monk seal volunteers and supporters are celebrating. See this post from Monk Seal Mania.

Fewer than 1,100 of the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals remain in the wild. Most dwell in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, or Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (which you can now get a glimpse of via google maps), while 150 to 200 Hawaiian monk seals are believed to have migrated to the main Hawaiian islands.

Welcome P01. May you grow and thrive in the Hawaiian isles!

Voice of the Sea

January 4th, 2014

Learn all about the exciting scientific and cultural work going on in Hawaii and the Pacific on a new, reality-based show, "Voice of the Sea," which debuts Jan. 5 on KFVE.

World paddleboard champion and shark researcher Kanesa Duncan Seraphin hosts the show, which profiles local science and cultural celebrities while inspiring students to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

The half-hour show was developed in collaboration with the University of Hawaii's Curriculum Research & Development Group, Hawaii Sea Grant Center for Marine Science Education, with funding from the NOAA Pacific Services Center.

The first episode will feature Kimokeo Kapahulehua, president of the Maui Fishpond Association, who will talk about restoration efforts there. Seraphin also interviews experts from the Tara expedition, and experts on aquaponics, oysters, algae and volcanoes.

"Voice of the Sea" will air 6 p.m. Sundays on KFVE (Channels 5 and 1005).

For the love of honu

December 12th, 2013

Hiwahiwa, a female Hawaiian green sea turtle, has made the journey from Laniakea to the French Frigate shoals several times. Here, she basks at Laniakea Beach. Photo by Nina Wu.

Hiwahiwa, a female Hawaiian green sea turtle, has made the journey from Laniakea to the French Frigate shoals several times. Here, she basks at Laniakea Beach. Photo by Nina Wu.

I remember the first time visiting the Hawaiian green sea turtles at Laniakea beach on Oahu's North Shore more than a decade ago. It wasn't as crowded as it is now, with a constant stream of visitors. There were visitors, yes, but not the sheer volume that there is now.

It was magical to see these magnificent creatures basking so peacefully on the shores of the beach. I recall getting into the water as well, and seeing some of the honu feeding on limu on the rocks. I knew then to get out of the way, while still admiring them. It's no wonder that an estimated 600,000 visitors make the trek to the North Shore, park in the makeshift dirt lot across the street and dart across Kamehameha Highway to get a glimpse of the sea turtles, too.

The wonderful thing is that they do so out of curiosity and hopefully, love for the honu, too.

A small bus dropped a group of Japanese tourists off across from Laniakea Beach to get a glimpse of the Hawaiian green sea turtles. Photo by Nina Wu.

A small bus dropped a group of Japanese tourists off across from Laniakea Beach to get a glimpse of the Hawaiian green sea turtles. Photo by Nina Wu.

But they may not know that the turtles are a threatened species protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and state laws. And they may not know that you should not feed, touch or sit on the turtles. You should also give them space (at least six feet) to bask in peace as well as a clear path to and from the ocean.

Thanks to volunteers from Malama Na Honu, the turtles are watched over by people who do what they do out of a love for turtles, too, and a desire to see them survive for future generations to see. On a recent visit, a little girl darted past the rope border and in front of a basking turtle to reach her father. Everyone gasped. Luckily, there was no harm done.

Whatever the state Department of Transportation decides to do about the volume of visitors visiting Laniakea and the traffic and parking problems they create, I hope the volunteers will continue to protect the honu, which are also under review for a delisting under the Endangered Species Act.

There are other places to see honu, too. If you see a stranded Hawaiian green sea turtle, call 983-5730 (7 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays on Oahu) and page 288-5685 on weekends, holidays and after hours.

Part II: Pu‘uhonua — A Place of Refuge

November 12th, 2013

Kaimalino, or KE18, is now living in California. He was removed from Kure and Midway atolls after showing unnatural aggression towards female monk seals and pups. Photo courtesy Monk Seal Foundation.

Kaimalino, or KE18, is now living in California. He was removed from Kure and Midway atolls after showing unnatural aggression towards female monk seals and pups. Photo courtesy Monk Seal Foundation.

If Kauai Pup 2's story made anything clear, it's that Hawaiian monk seals belong in Hawaii.

In an effort to give Hawaiian monk seals like KP2 a home, the Monk Seal Foundation is spearheading efforts to create "Pu‘uhonua...A Place of Refuge" at Sea Life Park on Oahu. It's a place where the endangered Hawaiian monk seals who cannot return to the wild can find a safe home to live out the rest of their lives.

Rehabilitation and release are not always options, according to foundation president Patrick Wardell , due to critical injuries or other environmental factors. KP2, or Ho‘ailona is one example — the pup seal who became too friendly with the folks on Molokai bounced around several isles and was nursed by humans, but ultimately could not be returned to the wild due to poor eyesight. He eventually ended up in the care of scientist Terrie Williams at a marine mammal lab in Santa Cruz before finding his way back home, where he has since taken up residence at the Waikiki Aquarium.

The Monk Seal Foundation, a non-profit based in Lahaina, Maui, joined forces in March with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Response Team Oahu, united by their same mission of preserving the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal for future generations.

Kaimalino is another recent example of a non-releasable seal. Wildlife officials removed him from Kure and Midway atolls in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands because he was unnaturally aggressive towards several females and their pups. He was temporarily held at Waikiki Aquarium and now lives in California.

Click here to learn more about the Pu‘uhonua Initiative.

Part I: A hospital for Hawaiian monk seals

November 11th, 2013

KP2, now known as Ho‘ailona, bounced around several locations in Hawaii before taking up residence at a Santa Cruz lab in California for two years. He is now a resident at the Waikiki Aquarium, where he serves as an ambassador for his species. Photo from

KP2, now known as Ho‘ailona, bounced around several locations in Hawaii before taking up residence at a Santa Cruz lab in California for two years. He is now a resident at the Waikiki Aquarium, where he serves as an ambassador for his species. Photo from

It's great to see a vision become reality — and maybe the tide is turning for our endangered Hawaiian monk seals.

The Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito, Calif. (north of San Francisco) expects to open the first phase of its new, $3.2 million monk seal hospital at the National Energy Laboratory of Hawaii (NELHA) in Kona by the end of this year.

The center, which has been rescuing marine mammals since 1975, including mostly harbor seals, elephant seals and sea lions from the California coast, has taken a keen interest in helping the endangered Hawaiian monk seals across the Pacific.

"We believe it's the right thing to do to help animals in need," said Jeff Boehm, the center's executive director.

With a population below 1,100 in the Hawaiian isles, the monk seal population is declining at a rate of about 4 percent per year. In the Northwestern Hawaiian islands, juveniles are prone to starvation, marine debris entanglement and shark predators. In the main Hawaiian islands, where more monk seals are being sighted, they have become victim to human-created hazards including fish hooks, nets and motor boats.

This Hawaiian monk seal was rescued after it was found with a hook. NOAA-Permit-932-190523319.

This Hawaiian monk seal ingested a fishing hook last year. NOAA Permit 932-1905233319.

In 2011 and 2012, several Hawaiian monk seals on Molokai and Kauai were killed intentionally by humans, considered both a state and federal offense due to its endangered status.

The facility, to be called "Ke Kai Ola" (The Healing Sea), broke ground in September of last year and should have four pools to accommodate injured monk seals. The pools have already been filled with water, according to Boehm, and could take an injured adult or orphaned pup.

The center needs another $700,000 to complete the second phase, which would include the buildout of a fish kitchen and lab, plus offices and an open-air visitor pavilion. Plans also call for solar photovoltaic panels, seawater air conditioning and seawater filtration infrastructure for the pools.

To help run operations, the center recently received a $25,000 grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. Donations have come from throughout the globe, according to Boehm, with the Hawaiian monk seal capturing the heart of Bay Area philanthropists as well as schoolkids raising funds in their classrooms.

The Marine Mammal Center's mission is "to expand knowledge about marine mammals — their health and that of their ocean environment — and to inspire their global conservation."

Another component of the center's mission is expanding knowledge, which means partnering with scientists to help expand and advance scientific knowledge, as well as to educate the general public about marine mammals. In California, the center works with more than 1,000 volunteers and has successfully rehabilitated and released hundreds of animals back to the wild.

"We go down to the beaches and watch them move back into the Pacific Ocean," he said. "To be frank, there are tears, sometimes. It's a celebratory feeling."

Boehm says the center is looking forward to working with other non-profits, the community and schools in Hawaii.

"There are great partners in Hawaii doing work around the observations, monitoring and response to animals on the beach," said Boehm. "What there hasn't been is a dedicated place to take these animals."

Until now. Click here to learn more.

No Butts About It

October 14th, 2013

This cigarette butt, with fresh pink lipstick on it, was on the sand at Kaimana Beach earlier this month, shortly after "Smoking is Prohibited" signs went  up. Photo by Nina Wu.

Someone littered this cigarette butt, with fresh pink lipstick, on the sand at Kaimana Beach earlier this month, shortly after "Smoking is Prohibited" signs went up. Kaimana Beach is now a smoke-free beach. All city beaches and parks will be smoke-free starting Jan. 1, 2014. Photo by Nina Wu. Oct. 5, 2013.

One of my earliest tweets ever was that cigarette butts on the beach are my pet peeve. I tweeted it again on Earth Day this year.

Ask anyone who has ever participated in a beach cleanup and they will tell you — hands down — that cigarette butts are, by far, the most frequently littered item picked up. Ocean Conservancy, which organizes International Coastal Cleanup Day, listed cigarette butts as the No. 1 item cleaned up from beaches worldwide in its 2012 Ocean Trash Index 2.1 million, to be exact.

They are also a pain to pick up because they are small and filthy (they've been in someone's mouth, plus they're made of plastic, which never breaks down, in addition to nasty chemicals) and can get buried in the sand. Besides plastic debris (which you need a sifter to get out), they are the most annoying piece of litter to clean from the beach.

So it's about time that Honolulu passed a law prohibiting smoking at our beaches. Smoking is already prohibited at pretty much the entire sweep of Waikiki beaches, including Kaimana Beach, Kapahulu Groin, Kuhio Beach as well as Sandy Beach Park. Smoking is also prohibited on the grass and picnic areas of all of Kapiolani Regional Park. At Ala Moana Beach Park, smoking is only prohibited on the sandy area, but the entire park will be smoke-free starting Jan. 1. Hanauma Bay has prohibited smoking within the nature preserve since 1993.

I understand that people have the right to smoke, if they want to, even though it's harmful for their health, in the name of freedom of choice. I do believe that there are many responsible smokers who take the care to put out their butts in the trash can or an ashtray, and that not all are littering the beach. But time and time again, smokers clearly are littering our beaches. The evidence is right there in the sand, by the hundreds and thousands over the past few decades, polluting our oceans and marine life.

That's where smokers' rights stop — when they are causing harm to others and to the environment. Furthermore, Oahu's beautiful beaches should not serve as a giant ashtray for locals as well as visitors from around the world. If we keep letting it happen, our beaches won't be beautiful, but blighted — with butts. The damage extends to the coral reef and all the life that it supports.

Starting Jan. 1, all city beaches, parks, swimming pools, playgrounds, athletic fields, tennis courts and bus stops will be smoke-free, as well. To see where all of Honolulu's parks are, visit this link. The fine is $100 for the first offense, up to $500 for the third. Honolulu Police Department will enforce the law, but let's hope people use common courtesy and take their smoking elsewhere.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa is also banning all tobacco products, including cigars, cigarettes and e-cigarettes, on its campus starting next year.

Honolulu is not the first to implement smoke-free beaches. Other municipalities — from Manhattan Beach, Calif. to New York  City have done so, too, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation. Click here for a full list. France's Minister of Health, Marisol Touraine, also said she would like to see smoking banned at parks and beaches (coincidentally, it seems, one day after Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed Bills 25 and 28).

Kudos to all of the hard-working volunteers and organizations, like B.E.A.C.H., Surfrider Foundation and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii who work so hard to keep our beaches clean.

To learn more about the law, visit If you have questions, call Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation at 808-768-3003.

Rise Above Plastics

October 4th, 2013

Our ocean is turning into a plastic soup. Image courtesy Flickr/CesarHarada on

Our ocean is turning into a plastic soup. Image courtesy Flickr/CesarHarada on

The Surfrider Foundation and Teva are bringing back "Rise Above Plastics Month" in October, with the goal of educating people on the threats that single-use plastics pose to marine environments.


"Plastic is the most common type of marine litter worldwide, comprising up to 90 percent of floating marine debris," says Laura Lee, Surfrider's director of marketing and communications.

Once again, Surfrider and Teva are offering the third annual "One Foot at a Time" plastic cleanup and art contest. To participate, artists collect one square foot of trash from their beach or community, then use the material to create a mosaic sculpture using one of the "Rise Above Plastics" templates.

This year, the templates are Halloween-themed, and include a bat, pumpkin, ghost, spider, skull or the Teva logo.

Snap a photo and email to Prizes for winners include gear from Teva, Firewire Surfboards and the Surfrider Foundation. Also, anyone who renews their Surfrider Foundation membership or donates $35 this month receives two Halloween-themed, reusable ChicoBags.

Here's a look at the single-use plastics we use on a daily basis in Honolulu (and simple ways to change this):

>> Plastic forks, spoons and knives. I admit to being guilty on this one, even though I know better, often when getting takeout lunch during the work week. The solution is simple — just bring your own fork from home or buy one of those bamboo utensil sets that you can carry with you (which I have, but often forget). At the very least, if you forget, you can always reuse plastic forks, turning them from single-use to multiple-use.

>> Plastic cups and straws. If you're a daily iced coffee or espresso drinker like me, then you probably get a single-use plastic cup and straw which you throw away after you're done drinking your beverage. The solution is to bring your own cup and reusable straw. Starbucks and many other cafes sell them. Starbucks even gives you a 10-cent discount for bringing a personal cup, which adds up after awhile.

>> Plastic grocery bags. Sure, we all reuse them to line our trash cans or to pick up dog poop, but there are so many times when the bags are unnecessary. If you bring your own bags to the grocery store, kudos to you! I've been pretty good about this one for the past few years. You can reduce plastic bags further by also bringing your own bag to retail stores, which I've been trying to do more often. Also, sometimes you can just say, "No thanks!" if you really don't have that much stuff. If you are just buying a handful of apples at the store, you don't always need to bag them. Just let the cashier ring them up loose, then throw in your reusable bag.

>> Plastic bottles. Most of us are aware that those plastic bottles for water, soda and juices are worth 5-cents apiece if you redeem them at Reynold's Recvycling. If you don't have the time to do so, then you can donate them or throw them into your blue bin for curbside pickup. So there's no excuse for NOT recycling plastic beverage bottles. On the other hand, it would be better to REDUCE the plethora of single-use plastic bottles by bringing a reusable bottle to fill up with water from the cooler, tap or fountain.

>> Plastic ziplock  bags: I confess to being guilty on this one, too. I often use ziplocks to pack snacks for my son, but what we can do to reduce the use of plastic is to simply wrap sandwiches in a napkin, wax paper or how about aluminum foil? You can also buy a reusable sandwich or snack bag from ChicoBag or LunchSkins.

>> Halloween Trick-or-Treat bags: Instead of plastic, go for felt buckets or good-quality, reusable bags that you can reuse year after year. I found an adorable, felt bucket shaped like a pumpkin for my son to use at Halloween last year. We'll be bringing it out and using it again this year.

The whole mission of Rise Above Plastics is to just be more aware. RAP is also a good reminder for those of us who already know, to remember, and to do better.

Most plastic pollution at sea starts out as litter on land, including beaches, streets and sidewalks, according to Surfrider. After plastics enter the marine environment, they slowly photodegrade and break down into smaller pieces that fish and turtles mistake for food. Our ocean is turning into plastic soup.

If you're interested in learning more, visit Surfrider's Rise Above Plastics page or check out this great educational toolkit. Surfrider also offers these 10 simple ways to rise above plastics.