Staci DeSchryver: Super Bonus Spiritual History Blog! July 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017


Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Sanctuary  

Date:  July 29, 2017

20 deg, 20.0 min N, 156 deg, 08.6 min W

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Scattered Clouds

Visibility: 10 nmi

Wind @ 23 kts from 65 degrees

Pressure: 1015.1 mb

Waves: 4 – 5 feet

Swell:  7-8 feet at 70 deg

Temp: 26.5 deg

Wet bulb:  23.5 deg

Dewpoint: 25 deg

Bonus Spiritual History Blog

On July 23, we briefly suspended our operations to help out fellow scientists camped out on the French Frigate Shoals (Lalo), located along the Northwest Hawaiian Island chain – about halfway between the northernmost main islands and Midway (Kuaihelani).  The trip was brief, and we never set foot on terra firma, but with the help of the Big Eyes we could see something that we had not seen up close in 3 days – land.

Two nights prior, we finally crossed over to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands – a sacred and certainly mysterious (at least to me)  area for the Hawaiian People.  I was waiting with some anticipation for the moment we would cross into these waters.  The entire Northwest Hawaiian Island chain and its surrounding seas are limited-access for the vast majority of seafarers; the waters are protected by a proclamation signed by President George W. Bush in 2006, and expanded by President Barack Obama in 2016. This Marine Sanctuary’s designated area begins near the start of the Northwest Hawaiian Island chain, and stretches all the way to the Kure Atoll (Hōlanikū), just past Midway Island (Kuaihelani).  We were not permitted to cross into these waters until we had a permit, part of which included a component requirement of a briefing on the history of the area before we entered.  ers Native Hawaiian Program Specialist Kalani Quiocho introduced us to this sacred ground during our pre-cruise training with this briefing on this Marine National Monument, Papahānaumokuākea.  His presentation was so moving that I felt it necessary that the story of these waters (through my limited experience) must be told.

Mr. Quiocho’s presentation began with the name song for Papahānaumokuākea.  His voice bellowed out in an ethereal chant – one in a smooth and haunting language with sound combinations like nothing I had ever heard before.  His song was punctuated with ‘okinas and kahakōs, and accented with stunning photographs of ocean life, ritual, and artifact.  The music moved me to a tear, though I couldn’t quite pinpoint the emotion that was supposed to accompany it.

name song for papahanamoukuakea

The Name song for Papahānaumokuākea, reprinted with permission from Kalani Quiocho.

I realize now that I have traveled to this sacred place that it was one of simple reverence for the culture and its people who belong so fully to it.  It was at that moment that I realized that this trip would be a whole other ball game – one that is sacred, cosmic, and mysterious.

Papahānaumokuākea (pronounced Papa-hah-now-mow-coo-ah-kay-a) is the first officially designated Mixed Cultural and Heritage site, and is the largest fully protected conservation area in the United States.   Its name commemorates the union of two Hawaiian ancestors – Papahānaumoku and Wākea, who according to Hawaiian ancestry gave rise to the Hawaiian archipelago, the taro plant and the Hawaiian people.  These two ancestors provide a part of the Genesis story for Hawaiʻi – land to live on, food to eat, and people to cultivate, commune, and thrive as one with the gifts of their ancestors. The namesake alone of this marine sanctuary highlights the importance of its existence and its need for protection.  Many of the islands are ancient ceremonial sites, two of which we passed on the way to the Shoals (Lalo).

Crossing over to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands also marks a celestially significant line in the Hawaiian archipelago – the Tropic of Cancer.  The Tropic of Cancer is the furthest north that the sun will reach a direct overhead path during the solar year – you might know this as the summer solstice.  Right on the Tropic of Cancer lies the island Mokumanamana, a sacred place of cultural distinction for the Hawaiian people.  The Tropic of Cancer divides the entire Hawaiian archipelago into two distinct sections, Pō and Ao – the Ao represents the more southern islands and spiritual daylight, and the Pō representing the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and spiritual twilight.

ao and po

This diagram shows the separation between the NWHI and the main Hawaiian Islands. The horizontal line through the center divides day (Ao) from night (Pō) and lines up with the Tropic of Cancer. The Island Mokumanamana lies directly on the boundary between the living and spiritual realms. Our destination was Lalo, or French Frigate Shoals, though our travels took us much further northwest than that. (Diagram Credit: Kalani Quiocho)

The crossing over as we passed Mokumanamana is significant in that we entered a different spiritual zone of the Hawaiian Islands.   The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument’s website (click here to read much more about it) describes the Northwest Hawaiian Islands as “a region of primordial darkness from which life springs and spirits return after death.”  In this sense, transiting past Mokumanamana represented a “crossing over” into a different realm of ancient history.  Mokumanamana is known for its high density of ancient ceremonial sites and is considered a center of Hawaiian religion and ideology.  Mr. Quiocho expands on the geographical importance of the area to the Hawaiian people in his commentary stating that,

“Papahānaumokuākea encompasses the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands which is ¾ of the Hawaiian archipelago and includes high basalt islands and low-lying atolls, and surrounding marine environments. It stretches nearly 2,000 kilometers and straddles the Tropic of Cancer also known to Hawaiʻi as Ke Ala Polohiwa a Kāne – The sacred black glistening path of Kāne, the patron god of the sun. It is believed that the Hawaiian Archipelago is divided into two regions called Pō and Ao, which essentially means night and day. Most of the NWHI is within Pō, a place of creation and origin where ancestors return to after death. The region known as Ao includes the main Hawaiian Islands where man resides. The entire Hawaiian Archipelago represents the dualisms and cycles of the Hawaiian universe. From the east where the sun rises and the islands are volcanically birthed from the oceanic womb to the west where the sun sets and the islands return to the sea. And all of the extraordinary biology that is found in the Northwestern and main Hawaiian Islands are accounted for in our oral traditions. The Kumulipo, a creation chant with more than 2,000 lines expresses the cosmology of the Hawaiian Islands, beginning with the birthing of the coral polyp and eventually the Hawaiian people. Naturally this is an inspiring place that is the framework of our worldview and the knowledge systems that tell us we are people of place. Which is why many refer to this area as the kūpuna islands, kūpuna meaning elder or grandparent.”

Today, Native Hawaiians will travel by double-hulled canoes from the main islands all the way up to Nihoa and Mokumanamana during times of ritual importance and follow in the footsteps of their ancestors to honor the tradition and the spiritual practice.  I’m sure the journey is both treacherous and fulfilling, one that would rival other more commonly known great expeditions, especially considering its spiritual significance.


Papahānaumokuākea is rich with history – both ancient and recent, and full of its own surprises!

Mr. Quiocho continues by expanding on the importance of the navigation of these waters to the Hawaiian people and how it honors their homeland connections:

“Native Hawaiians believe that the vast region that makes up the NWHI is an incredibly sacred place and is regarded as the construct of their cosmological genealogy. This region is rooted in creation and origin as a place where all life began and to which ancestors return after death. Native Hawaiians have historical connections to all parts of their homeland, which encompass all the islands, atolls, shoals, coral reefs, submerged seamounts and ocean waters that connect them. While the islands themselves are focal destinations for traditional voyages, the vast ocean is equally important. It is a cultural seascape that is imbued with immense value. The ocean is more than an unknown empty space that isolates islands, but rather a pathway for movement and potential.


A rare sighting of Tropical Pacific Orca – one of the first Cetaceans to welcome us to the Monument. What a gift!

Long-distance voyaging and wayfinding is one of the most unique and valuable traditional practices that Native Hawaiians have developed and continue to advance. It is an ancient way of interacting with the ocean that continues to inspire and create social change. The ocean region surrounding the NWHI is the only cultural voyaging seascape within the Hawaiian Archipelago. The main Hawaiian Islands are large enough for any novice navigator to find, but the ocean region throughout and surrounding Papahānaumokuākea provides challenging opportunities for apprentice navigators to excel. This expansive ocean environment was the setting for ancient Hawaiian chiefs to voyage back and forth between the main Hawaiian Islands and the NWHI over the course of 400 years.”

On our journey, we slipped passed Mokumanamana in the cover of night – through the invisible gates and into this ancient ancestral realm.  Although we had been in the monument since the previous day, for some reason this crossing marked a distinction for me personally in an indescribable way.  Since arriving on Oahu and in my travels since, I’ve known there was something special and different about this place, and I’ve known that part of the “different” was me.  Walking through Ala Moana Park on the 4th of July revealed threads of a culture that formed a beautiful tapestry of family, community, and heritage as I strolled past hundreds of families camped out in anticipation of the upcoming fireworks over the ocean.

volcanic neck

A volcanic neck stands high above the waters surrounding the shoals.

There was something communal and sacred about it, even though the time and event was modern.  There was an “old” feeling of togetherness that buzzed through the park amongst strangers and friends.  I knew I was an outsider to this energy, but I didn’t feel entirely left out of it.  It’s one thing to feel like a foreigner on the “day” side of the Tropic of Cancer, but the “night” side held a spiritual distinction, as though I was trespassing in a dimension to which I did not belong. Knowing that the only passage of ships through this area would come with permits and regulations left a feeling of emptiness in an already vast ocean.  Knowing the ocean is full beneath with life both current and past – fish and whale and ancient Hawaiian spirit alike gave back some reassurance that we were not entirely alone.  For the first time I didn’t want to just know about Papahānaumokuākea, I wanted the ocean to tell me the story herself.

Nestled in the middle of Papahānaumokuākea was our target destination – French Frigate Shoals (Lalo).  On this tiny island a small team of scientists have been camped out for a little over six weeks studying the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal.  We were tasked with delivering critical supplies to the scientific team – fuel, replacements of scientific gear, and a small care package with a few creature comforts they had not had access to in quite some time.  (I mean, seriously.  Who drops off fuel without dropping off chocolate? Not us!)   We also picked up some specimens from them to take back to the lab in Honolulu. The Shoals are a special place – a World War II military outpost slowly decays on the far side of the island, providing some cover for the scientists as they work. The island hosts thousands upon thousands of terns, flying en masse around the island in huge swarms.


A closer view of the island. The dots in the air above the island are all birds.

The terns were in preparation of fledging, and in anticipation of that day, tiger sharks stalked the surrounding waters, waiting for their next meal. On the opposite side of the island a few hundred meters away from shore, a lone sandbar (formerly dredged up for use as a military runway) rose to the surface providing a quiet place for a monk seal and her two pups to lounge in the sand.  One seal pup practiced swimming in the shallows as the mother casually glanced in its direction.  The other pup would hobble a few feet away down the beach, only to run back to its mother and lie next to her for a time.  It was a little reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell beach vacation painting, had Rockwell chosen an animal personification route as his medium.  A turtle dotted the far edge of the landscape on the main island, basking in the rising sun as the waves gently rolled on to the beach behind him.


This flat strip of land is a dredged up runway, slowly returning back to the ocean after years of abandonment from use. A mother seal and two pups lounge on the sand, enjoying the sun.

The structures on the land from afar looked like a distant movie set for an apocalyptic storyline. The wind howled as we approached the atoll, and birds fought against the invisible currents in frantic circles around the island.  Two boats lay destitute along the far side of the island while waves crashed merciless against the sea wall built to hold the atoll in place during the time the island was volunteered to serve in a wartime capacity. The island itself is a surreal duplicity – serving both as a protector of life and a vessel of war.  I found myself taking stock of this history;  watching from far away to learn the eternal evolution of this strange place – first a volcano, sunk beneath the surface, then to a primordial breeding ground for coral, fish, and shark – onto a pristine landscape, possibly used by ancestral Hawaiians for ceremony and stopover en route to Kure (Hōlanikū) – a military base as a refueling station and an outpost – and finally a protected home for hundreds of species, some hanging desperately onto the last strings of life but finally thriving under the care of a dedicated research team.

As much as I desperately wanted to go on to the island to have a look at this former military operations base-turned-endangered-animal-sanctuary, none of us could go on shore – even those who shuttled supplies to the scientists.  French Frigate Shoals marked the first time I had ever seen a coral atoll in anything other than a picture, and it seemed a natural part of my inner explorer to want to pop on to shore to have a look about, even for just a few minutes.  Everything in French Frigate Shoals is protected under the Papahānaumokuākea permitting restrictions.

pulley system

Supplies were hauled ashore by the small pulley system jutting up from the shoreline – visible on the left-middle portion of the island.

Had we wanted to explore the land, we would have needed to quarantine our clothing and ourselves for a minimum of 72 hours to protect the landscape from anything foreign taking foot on shore. Our ship couldn’t make it much closer than a mile or two from the island so as not to put it in danger of running aground. So, a team of four people shuttled supplies in the small boat, navigating the shallows and hauling the supplies on shore through a pulley system.  Two quick trips out to the island, and we were soon on our way again in our search for cetaceans.

When Mr. Quiocho parted ways with us after our training, he made a casual but powerful statement in closing.  He told us the whale dives deeply to commune with ancient wisdom commissioned to the deep ocean, bringing this deep knowledge from the ancestral depths to the surface so that it can become part our collective consciousness. Our trip, then, is a not merely a collection of data or a series of samples.  Each time we interact with the whales, they are bringing us the knowledge of the ancients in hope that we will continue to pass that information on to anyone at the surface willing to listen. The responsibility of our work when described in this light brought a new reverence to the study – one that is not just a story for the present in hopes of preserving for the future, but that weaves ancient knowledge from the past into our work, as well.

Did you know?

  •         Each day at noon, the ship’s alarms are tested to ensure they will work in an emergency situation.  Guess who got to test the alarms?

    fire alarm

    Yup! I got to test the alarm. Thanks Lieutenant Commander Rose!

  •         Ship safety is the height of the focus of everyone on board.  Each Friday, we complete drills to make sure we are ready in the event of an emergency.  Of the many dangers at sea, a fire can prove to be most catastrophic.  It’s not like the fire department can come out to the middle of the Pacific at the first sign of burning bacon (which may or may not have happened to me two days before I left for Oahu).  The entire Sette crew acts as the fire department, so it is important for them to practice in the event of an emergency.  This week we simulated a live-fire scenario, complete with a fog machine.  I got to call the drill up to the bridge!  It was a little extra fun built into a very serious situation.
  •         Classes are still continuing each afternoon on the bridge, Monday through Friday. 
    amanda and hexacopters

    Dr. Amanda Bradford gives the Wardroom a lesson on Hexacopter Operations (see blog #5 for more!)

    tim and msds

    ENS Tim Holland gives a lesson on MSDS chemical safety sheets.

  •         Officers are in a friendly competition to see who is on watch when the most sightings occur, among other friendly battles.  It is the topic of lively discussion at most meal times.  

    The tallys

    Officers can make a competition out of ANYTHING!  Here are the tallys for the past 25 days.

Chris Monsour, July 7, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Monsour
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: July 7, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour demonstrates the proper technique for holding and releasing on of the many Grey Tipped Reef Sharks that were brought aboard OSCAR ELTON SETTE during the July 7th lobster trapping.

Chris Monsour demonstrates the proper technique for holding and releasing Grey Tipped Reef Sharks

Science and Technology Log

Today we finally got to get back to what brought us here, the lobster trapping. As mentioned several times before, the lobster population at Necker Island  seems to be smaller than Maro Reef.  Today this was evident when at one point we had pulled up more Grey Tipped Reef Sharks than lobsters. It was neck and neck with 20 apiece. I think at the end of the day we had more sharks. (As I am writing this the lab is finishing up the data). Some of the area where we were sampling is a sand bottom which is not the best habitat for the lobsters, so we pulled mostly hermit crabs and sharks out of the traps. That is not to say we did not catch any lobster. We caught a few Chinese slipper and a few spiny. The spiny that we did catch were large adults, with no juveniles.  There were several times that we would have an entire string of traps without any lobsters.

The number of sharks did surprise me and at first I was hesitant to handle the sharks, but the other cracker, Matt, showed me the proper way to get a shark out of the trap. I had to first grab the shark behind the head, near the gills and then grab near the tail. One has to grab the head first because a shark does not like to be grabbed as one could imagine and if the head is not grabbed first, it will bite you.  After I fumbled the first two, I had enough courage and the ability to take sharks out of the traps on my own.  At one point when I was taking a shark out I was called the “Shark Whisperer”.  By my estimate, I pulled 12 sharks out of the traps and tossed them overboard.  There were a few times when we would have 2 very large sharks in a trap. I have to wonder what would drive such a large animal into such a small space, for so little food.  Is the natural drive for food so strong in sharks that they would squeeze themselves into such a small space?  

Many grey tipped sharks were brought aboard during the lobster trapping.

Many grey tipped sharks were brought aboard during the lobster trapping.

There were also a few eels, Conger eels to be exact and these eels do not have the teeth or the mean disposition of the moray eels.  I did not know this at first, so the first time Matt tried to pick up a Conger eel and it slid out of his hands and ended up coming right at me! I was standing on the table in about 2 seconds, I didn’t know it wasn’t going to bite me.  The crew got a good laugh at me standing on the table. Eventually, I had the nerve to pick up the eels and was able to remove the last  eel of the day and toss it over the side of the ship safely.

We have only 5 days left, 3 of these will be trapping.  I am glad to be back to work.  The six days we were down were fun at first, but by Thursday I was getting cabin fever or boat fever. I am looking forward to the 3 days of work.  I will be a cracker again tomorrow, runner, and my last day I will be a stacker.

Aloha… Chris

Chris Monsour, July 3, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Monsour
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: July 3, 2007

The reflection of NOAA Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour can be seen in one of the monuments to The Battle of Midway.

The reflection of NOAA Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour can be seen in one of the monuments to The Battle of Midway.

Science and Technology Log 

I have decided to just combine the logs because we have not had a chance to do any lobster trapping in the past seven days and really have not done a lot of science.  I have seen a lot science and ecology in action, but I have not participated in doing any research, so no science log today.  Last night at about 1:00 a.m., I watched as the air ambulance took off from Midway. I had the chance to ride in the ambulance to the airstrip and help with the final transport of the injured researcher.  Watching the plane take off was the culmination of my unexpected visit to Midway Atoll.  I must say, that I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Midway and take in some of the history and nature of the island.  I spent the two days here relaxing on the beach, observing several thousand Laysan albatross, and just exploring a remarkable island. So this log will focus on Midway.  Most the information comes from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Multi-Agency Education project.

Midway Atoll is a circular-shaped atoll with three small islets (Sand, Eastern, and Spit) on the southern end of the lagoon. Midway is probably the best known location within the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  While the land area only covers about 1535 acres, the atoll has approximately 85,929 acres of reef.

NOAA Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour captured a Fairy Tern displaying its wings during his trip to Midway Atoll.

NOAA Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour captured a Fairy Tern displaying its wings during his trip to Midway Atoll.

During World War II, Midway served as an important naval air station and submarine refit base. The atoll was attacked twice, first on December 7th 1941, and again during the pivotal Battle of Midway, June 4th-6th 1942. A successful American intelligence operation tipped the U.S. forces to the planned attack, and a small U.S. task force was able to surprise and defeat the Japanese invasion fleet bound for the atoll.  Many interpret this battle as the watershed moment in the tide of the Pacific War.  Though the major carrier-based actions took place to the north, a fierce air battle was waged above and on Sand and Eastern Islands. The atoll was designated as the National Memorial to the Battle of Midway in 2000.  Nearly two million birds of 19 species nest at Midway. The atoll has the largest Laysan albatross (also called goonie birds) colony in the world. Other birds include black-footed albatross, red-tailed tropicbirds, white terns, black and brown noddies, shearwaters, and Bonin petrels. The waters abound with dolphins, monk seals, and green sea turtles. More than 250 species of fish live in its waters, including hapu`upu`u, ulua (jack), kumu (goatfish), and sharks. Beyond the reefs are pelagic fishes such as tuna and marlin.

Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour captured this photo ofseveral Laysan Albatross resting in one of the fields onSand Island at Midway Atoll.

Chris Monsour captured this photo of several Laysan Albatross resting on Sand Island at Midway Atoll.

In 1996 the once strategic naval base was turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be managed as Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. A massive U.S. Navy clean up prior to their departure removed tons of debris, leaky fuel tanks, and lead paint, as well as rats. Today a fulltime Refuge staff administers a small visitor program, cares for its wildlife, restores native plant life, and protects historic resources.

It would be hard to not mention the Laysan Albatross when not mentioning Midway. Over seventy percent of the world’s population nests at Midway. In 1996, about 387,854 breeding pairs of Laysan Albatross nested on all three Albatross currently on the island, he stated around 400,000 breeding pairs.  We just happened to be at Midway when the chicks were beginning to fledge.  To get around on the island was at times difficult because the birds would not move when approached.  At times the streets were full of adults and chicks and one had to zigzag through the sea of birds. As one passes by an albatross and gets to close, it will snap. It was nothing for me to be walking to the North Beach and have a hundred of these birds snapping at me.  I have never seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds”, but it was referenced several times as we made our way through the island.  It was especially eerie at night because it gets very dark on Midway and I forgot to bring a flashlight with me on the second night.  I walked along the beach back to the ship because I knew if I followed the roads back, I might step on an albatross.

Overall, I enjoyed the time at Midway Atoll.  We are currently on course back to Necker Island. We’ll have four more days of trapping, and then we’ll depart for Pearl Harbor.

Aloha… Chris

NOAA Ship OSCAR ELTON SETTE seems to be dwarfed by one of the huge fuel tanks on Sand Island at Midway Atoll.

NOAA Ship OSCAR ELTON SETTE is dwarfed by one of the huge fuel tanks on Sand Island at Midway Atoll.

Chris Monsour, July 1, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Monsour
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: July 1, 2007

Science and Technology Log

Third week at sea and the course of the rest of the trip is still up in the air.  We are currently on our way to Midway. As you may know, Midway was an important sea battle during WWII and an important victory for the Allies in the Pacific Theater (I know this is supposed to be a science log, but history is just as important).  Yesterday we picked up two researchers from the island of Lisianski (see below).  We traveled from Necker Island to Lisianski, then off to Midway.  The Northwest Hawaiian Islands Education Project had some good information about Lasianski Island. Lisianski Island is 1.5 square kilometers (381 acres), about the size of Honolulu. Its highest point is a sand dune about 40 feet above sea level. Though the island is small, the reef area to the southeast, called Neva Shoals, is huge, covering 979 square kilometers (241,916 acres), an area nearly the size of O`ahu.

This map was part on an article found in the June 14th, 2006 edition of the New York Times.

This map was part on an article found in the June 14th, 2006 edition of the New York Times.

A ship picking up survivors of a shipwreck introduced mice to the island in 1844. Rabbits were introduced later, and along with mice, they devastated the island’s ecology and are believed to have caused the demise of the Laysan rail. Feather collecting began on Lisianski about 1904. In response to public outcry about the feather trade, Theodore Roosevelt established the Hawaiian Island Bird Reservation, which included Lisianski, in 1909. An armed party landed on the island in 1910.

NOAA Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour takes in the sand and sun

Chris Monsour takes in the sand and sun

They arrested feather poachers and confiscated and destroyed about 1.4 tons of feathers, representing 140,400 birds. Today, Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles are common visitors to Lisianski’s sandy white beaches. Migratory shorebirds seen on the island include the kolea (golden plover), ulili (wandering tattler), and kioea (bristle-thighed curlew). Nearly three-fourths of the Bonin petrels nesting in Hawai`i make this island their home. In some years, more than a million sooty terns visit Lisianski.

An Albatross preens its young. Lisianski Island is an important nesting area for the Albatross as well as other seabirds.

An Albatross preens its young. Lisianski Island is an important nesting area for the Albatross as well as other seabirds.

The Hawaiian Monk Seal is an endangered marine mammal that is endemic to the warm, clear waters of the Hawaiian Islands. `Ilioholo-i-ka-uaua is how it is known to the indigenous people of Hawaii. The Monk Seal gets its common name from its round head covered with short hairs, giving it the appearance of a medieval friar. The name may also reflect the fact that the Hawaiian Monk Seal lives a more solitary existence, in comparison with other seals that in places collect in large colonies.

This photo of a mother Monk Seal with her cub was taken by NOAA Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour during a visit to Lisianski Island.

Chris Monsour captures this mother Monk Seal with her cub during a visit to Lisianski Island.

Patricia Greene, July 7, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patricia Greene
Onboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 26 – July 30, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: July 7, 2006

Science and Technology Log

The majority of the Hawaiian monk seals are found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands from Nihoa Island to Kure Atoll with a small number on the main Hawaiian Islands.  Traditionally Monk seals have been killed for food by early sailors.  The species was declared depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1976 following a 50% decline in beach counts.  Monk seals were also classified as “endangered” under the Endangered Species act in 1976.  Undersized female pups from the French Frigate Shoals were rehabilitated and released on Kure from the 1980’s until 1995 in an attempt to re-establish populations.

Most pups are born between February and July with the peak in April and May.  The newly born pup is totally black and weighs approximately 20 to 30 lbs.  By the time they are weaned (30 to 40 days) they will increase their weight to over 100 lbs.  Monk seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands tend to wean their pups sooner at approximately 30 days, while seals on the Hawaiian Islands tend to nurse longer; as many as 60 days. Northwestern Hawaiian Island pups tend to be smaller in size as a result.  Females give birth on beaches with shallow water to protect their pups from sharks.  A female will not give birth until they reach five to ten years of age.  By the time the researchers arrive on Green Island most female seals will have already pupped.Approximately 90% of the monk seals remain at the island where they were born for life.  During our recent visit to Green Island, I interviewed monk seal researchers Tracy Wurth and Antonette Gutierrez from the National Marine Fisheries Service.  Tracy and Antonette have been in the field on Green Island since May 16, 2006 collecting data on the monk seal population.

Field researchers from the National Marine Fisheries Service on all the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands keep careful track of each seal in the colony; identifying individuals with applied tags and bleach marks as well as natural markings or scars.  Every seal is photographed by taking photos of all sides and flippers and are documented in a digital photo library.  New pups are tagged as soon as they are weaned at 30 to 40 days.  Plastic “temple” tags are applied to each rear flipper and injected with a micro-chip pit tag.  Flipper tags are color specific to each island; Kure uses grey tags, while Pearl and Hermes uses light blue tags.  The letter assigned will tell researchers what year the pup was born.  One pup with a bleach mark “Z26” swam close enough to our boat for us to read his marks.  Later the researchers knew exactly what seal we had seen and told us it was a “weaner;” a pup born is this year that had already weaned.Tracy and Antonette conduct seal patrols on Green Island on a daily basis.  They walk the beach collecting information on each seal observed.  Approximately every fourth day they conduct an atoll count, which is a standardized seal patrol that is time sensitive and basically captures a “snapshot” of the population at a given time.  For their atoll counts the seal team start their survey on Green Island at 1:00 pm and when finished take their boat to Sand islet and conduct a survey there.  Atoll counts take the researchers approximately three hours.

Researchers also collect marine debris such as nets on shore or in shallow water and move it to a secure location to be picked up at a later date by the National Marine Fisheries Coral Reef Ecosystem Division.  The collection of marine debris is extremely important because monk seals can become entangled in the nets.During the field season information is collected on injuries, wounds, illnesses, abnormalities, as well as deaths/disappearances, births, and any unusual events.  If a dead seal is found a necropsy is performed and samples from organs and tissues are collected.  Researchers also collect specimens of scat and spew (vomitus) in an effort to analyze the monk seal’s diet.  Tissue plugs are taken from tagged pups for DNA analysis to determine maternity.  Priorities for the Kure researchers include all of the above, while male aggression and shark predation mitigation is not a significant problem here at Kure Atoll.  However, researchers are concerned about the future seal population due to low juvenile survival.  As the current breeding females get older or die there will not be younger seals to take their place in the breeding population.

At Kure Atoll, the adult seal population in 2005 was 86 individuals with 23 pups born.  The population at Kure has been slowly decreasing over the last several years.  One major factor is the low juvenile survival rate due to lack of nutrients and resulting emaciation.  However, this year their numbers show an increase in juvenile survival with a re-sight rate of over 60 percent.  In the past the re-sight rate has been closer to only 30 percent.

While on Kure Atoll, the researchers enter their data in the field database system. When the researchers return from their assignment they will file their final report.  This information will be summarized in published papers and used by various institutions such as the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Team.

The future of the protected monk seal is unclear. Today, researchers estimate the total monk seal population in existence is approximately 1,300 to 1,600 seals. Researchers are concerned if the population continues to decline the total number could fall below 1,000 within the next five years. Scientists and researchers work together to find solutions to aid the recovery of the Hawaiian monk seal.

Kazu Kauinana, May 16, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kazu Kauinana
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
May 9 – 23, 2006

Mission: Fisheries Survey
Geographical Area: Hawaiian Islands
Date: May 16, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Latitude:  28, 23.9 N
Longitude: 178, 25.0 W
Visibility:  10 NM
Sea wave heights: 2-3
Sea swell heights: 3-4
Seawater temperature: 24.0 C
Sea level Pressure:  1/8 Cumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Today we began to off load gear and seven personnel onto Green Island, the main island of Kure Atoll, as well as the farthest west and last island in the Hawaiian chain.  This island did not experience any bird poaching or guano mining, but in 1960 it became a United States Coast Guard LORAN (long-range navigation) station.  The major features of the station were a barracks, a signal/power building, a transmitter building, a pump house, seven fuel tanks, a 4,000-foot-long runway and a 625-foot-high LORAN tower.  The only features remaining are parts of the barracks and the runway, which is unused and disintegrating. There is also a small pier that is being used by the researchers.  It is now a wildlife refuge under the jurisdiction of the Hawaii Fish and Game Department.

The island is heavily vegetated with not only shrubs, grasses, and crawling vines, but also several kinds of trees. Verbesina is now growing out of control and a landscaper is a part of this crew to eradicate this invasive species.  It grows so thick that it does not allow ground nesting birds like the Blue Faced Booby to utilize them.  It also poisons the ground so that other plants cannot grow where they have established themselves.

I should mention that this is not a quarantine island like Laysan, Lisianski, and Pearl/Hermes.  Too many invasive species had been brought in with the development of the station to warrant that designation.  One of the invaders is a crawling weed with half-inch thorns and easily goes right through your slippers.  When the women opened the barracks to check it out, it was filled with cane spiders on the walls and ceiling; and the floor was covered with a carpet of dead ants that the spiders had eaten.  There are also rats and at one time there was a dog, left there by a rescued shipwrecked crew.  However, it was eaten by a crew that was shipwrecked later on.  The atoll is notorious for shipwrecks.

I saw turtles and seals too.  In fact, I had to get out of the water several times because the seals would swim towards me to see what I was doing there.  We always had to steer clear of all the animals so as not to disturb them or have them become familiar with humans.

Green island is located on the inner side of a large ring of reef.  Within this reef, it is relatively shallow and outside the ring it is very deep; rough water on the ocean side and calm on the lagoon side; and sloping fine sand beaches on the inside and course and rugged on the ocean side.  The camp and pier are on the lagoon side of the island.

Most of the day I was a “mule,” carrying six months worth of supplies from the shuttling Zodiac to the spider’s nest (the barracks). Lots of thorns, soft fine sand, hot sun, but no ticks.

At the end of the day I was rewarded by being allowed to visit the “AHU” (alter or shrine) that the crew from the Hawaiian sailing vessel, The Hokulea, had built on a recent visit to this island.  It is located in a spectacular site on the wild ocean side of the island just up in a safe spot from the water’s edge.  It is comprised of several large coral heads comfortably arranged with a Hawaiian adze placed in the middle, inscribed with the title “NAVIGATING CHANGE.”  I was deeply moved!

Kazu Kauinana, May 15, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kazu Kauinana
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
May 9 – 23, 2006

Mission: Fisheries Survey
Geographical Area: Hawaiian Islands
Date: May 15, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Latitude:  28, 06.7 N
Longitude: 177, 21.3 W
Visibility: 10 Nm
Wind direction: 095
Wind speed: 17 kts
Sea wave heights: 2-3
Sea swell heights: 5-6
Seawater temperature: 23.2 C
Sea level pressure: 1027.2 Cloud cover: 3/8 Cumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Today we hit Midway Atoll, the largest island we’ve visited so far.  It is covered with tall Ironwood trees and has been well developed by the military.  A large airstrip and an enclosed harbor can be seen on the approach.  We docked at one of the two piers on the northeast side of the island.  Midway is no longer a military base.  It has been turned into a wildlife refuge. The park rangers came over to the boat and gave a briefing and rules of the island. I went for a walk on my own and did not see the Laysan duck because I did not have a guide to the restricted refuge area.  Forty-three ducks from Laysan island were brought here one year ago and 40 have survived.  They have also produced ducklings  so the project is considered to be going well.

I did have a great time just moseying around taking pictures of odd and interesting man-made curiosities.  There was a 12-foot gooney bird between two super huge canons in front of the bowling alley and mall.  Everything had a ghost town sort of look, and there were birds everywhere as usual, but no people.  I made my way to the famous seaplane hanger to get a picture of its bullet-riddled side, but the side had been removed.  In another hanger I found the Midway Military Museum.  It had been the airport arrival and departure area. There were two bombs at the gateway, one 6 feet and the other 20 feet.  There were great paintings of aircraft, some in battle scenes.  Everything was from the 1940s and being alone there kind of creeped me out.  TWILIGHT ZONE.

I made my way to North Beach next to where we docked the ship.  This beach is rated as one of the best four beaches in the world and it lives up to it.  It’s about two miles long and the sand is blinding-white coral. The water is crystal clear and 3-5 feet deep for about a quarter mile out to sea.  You can easily see the abundant fish swimming fearlessly by you, and any Tiger shark approach would give you fair warning.  Even the sand is great because it is made of crushed coral and it stays cool.  It is not silica sand.  I was told that the fishing is great here, but it is catch and release because of sanitaria.

Personal Log 

That evening the OSCAR SETTE had a great barbecue and the whole town was invited.  I think there are only about 30 permanent residents.  It is interesting that most of the help is from Thailand.  I met a Thai artist who does sand-blasted glass illustrations.  I showed him the bust of Chad Yoshinaga that I was doing and then he took me up to his home and showed me his artwork.  I was very impressed with his wildlife and Buddhist images.  He said he just does it to pass the time.

We spent the night at Midway and left at 7 a.m.