September 30th: A Change in the Weather
Written By Dan Suthers September 30-October 1, 2004
Today is our last day at Pearl and Hermes Atoll. I could not resist its call; instead of staying on board and writing, I arranged a full day on the water, starting on HI-2 with the Mooring Team for CTDs and an STR swap (CTDs and STRs are explained in an article on reef oceanography), then planned to join the Towboard team to observe their last tow before lunch, after which HI-2 would be allocated to the Education Team for a dive on the southern edge of the reef. After 5 hours sleep I am up with everyone else and packing in a hefty Allen Gary omelet.
We could see squalls in the distance as we launched our boats from the Hi`ialakai's position along the northwest edge of Pearl and Hermes. The Casitas has a small bout launch out, which has reported lightning in their area. After a brief visit by dolphins, we conducted a CTD near the Hi`ialakai, and then headed southwest towards our next CTD, with flying fish appearing off port and starboard. Since the squalls were approaching, the Commanding Officer requested that we give him frequent position updates, and reminded us that we could cancel operations if we felt uncomfortable with the weather situation. But these are dedicated scientists.
Not long after our second CTD drop, the first squall hit, with heavy rain and moderately strong winds lofting bow-spray over the deck. It was actually quite beautiful: the rain damps small chop, making the surface of the water smoother than usual, but textured by the rain, resulting in graceful dancing green-grey curving surfaces with soft texture. Keith on HI-1 thought he saw a water spout! Soon the squall passed, and the rain-shells came off. But in the distance we could see an ominous dark wall. As we worked our way back northwest towards our STR site, this mother of squalls advanced a white broom of rain towards us. "Now we know what it feels like to be dust mites," Kyle remarked when I pointed this out.
When this storm reached us, it completely engulfed all four launches we had in the area with heavy rain reducing visibility to about 15 feet, accompanied by lightning this time. Some strikes were within our proximity, so quite loud. We heard that some divers were still in the water, although they were probably safer in the deep where current would have dissipated than we were on the boat. Danny and Kyle donned snorkeling masks and tubes to make it easier to see in the rain, while I attempted to get photographs through a rain-drenched lens. After each lightning strike, the Commanding Officer contacted each boat in turn to make sure they were OK. He had already asked us to cease operations and return to the boat, but we decided it was best to let the worst pass before attempting to navigate the reef.
Everyone returned to the Hi`ialakai without incident, though our engine was smoking some, so the chief engineer Lobo Thomala got aboard to check it out. I sensed some excitement in the lab, and it wasn't just adrenaline from the storm. Greta Aeby was virtually dancing with a big smile everywhere she went. She had found another sample of a new coral disease that she had only seen once up here last year. Whatever turns you on, Greta! One of the engineers tipped me off about a "chocolate chip sea cucumber," so I went into the web lab to find Susan and David photographing something that did indeed look like chocolate mousse with dark chocolate chips on it. Susan says it is a very rare specimen, previously seen only on NWHI further north of here. It is in the process of being described: to date it has been classified only to the Genus level, and may be a new species. This specimen will go back to Honolulu for further study.
A little while after lunch, an announcement came on the PA: all boats will commence launching in five minutes. Since the morning's work was not completed, our original afternoon plans are scrapped, and I rejoined the Mooring Team on HI-2 to return to the STR site. We will also conduct further CTD drops, and release some of the photographers' specimens.
At the STR site, Kyle is in the water first, followed by myself a few seconds later. As soon as my bubbles have cleared, I see a very large ulua circling Kyle. The fish is clearly not happy about the intrusion, and continued to harass us for the entire half hour of the STR replacement. At one point Danny got a good scare when it swam right in front of his face as he tied off the STR. I tried to distract it, letting it follow me around the area while the others worked. I admit I was a little nervous with this beast just off my fintips, and kept looking back to make sure he wasn't trying to take a nip.
After a few more CTDs, we found a fore-reef area of sufficient depth to return our specimens. Three SCUBA divers took the fish down to about 30 feet in buckets: Stephani, Kyle and Danny. (Elizabeth was still grounded following her reaction to the hydra sting.) I assisted from above by catching the buckets after they were sent to the surface with air, and returning them to the boat. The divers took a look around for a little while after, and during this time a new storm approached us. By the time we were all back in the boat and headed to the mother ship, it was raining on some hefty swells.
This cloudy evening our transit to Midway began.
Talk About It!
What is stinging me in the water?
Asked by Ruby on Jun 23, 2006.
In your article, "September 30th: A Change in the Weather -- Written By Dan Suthers September 30-October 1, 2004", you mention someone being grounded by a reaction to a hydra sting, and I wonder if that is what has been stinging me. I live on the Big Island of Hawai'i near a coastline that has reduced salinity due to many offshore freshwater springs. I and a few others have been stung by something in the ocean water (on or near the surface) that we can't see. It seems to get under the looser parts of our bathing suits and leaves swollen, red, itchy welts that last far longer than any insect bite. This is definitely taking place in the water, not on the shore. One person was told by a dermatologist that they are hydra stings, but the descriptions I've seen of hydra don't match our experience. What do you think? Mahalo!
Answered by Dan from University of Hawaii on Jul 12, 2006.
The diver mentioned in my article sustained a sting by touching the reef without her diving gloves on, so it was something on the bottom. I am not an expert in this area, but if you were stung by something difficult to see in the water, I would suspect jellyfish. At Mokumanamana I photographed a box jellyfish that was only visible because of small bubbles on it. Of course there are other kinds of jellyfish as well in the main Hawaiian islands.