Dolphin Swims on the Big Island

Sometimes there are no easy answers to complex problems. Dolphin swims on the Big Island have been around for several decades as a recreational activity. As visitors to the island we, like many others, enjoyed amazing experiences on dolphin swims with Dolphin

Family groups cruise by when you are near dolphins in the water.

Family groups cruise by when you are near dolphins in the water.

Journeys’ Captain Nancy Sweatt. She always provided a high quality and very ethical experience, emphasizing respect for the spinner dolphins and other marine life we would see.

 

A dolphin swim is one of the most connecting experiences I have ever had on land or in the water. Her boat, Dolphin TLC, would drop us off in an area where dolphins were sighted cruising in about 60 to 90 feet of water over light colored sand. We were instructed to wait for dolphins to come near on their own, and told not to pursue them or swim toward them. We watched, took photographs, and kept memories close to our hearts. These experiences caused us to do

It works well to just be there and wait. They come up to breathe, jump and spin, or just cruise by.

It works well to just be there and wait. They come up to breathe, jump and spin, or just cruise by.

more research on spinner dolphins and learn more about the controversies surrounding human interaction with them.

 

Spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) spend their nights diving down as deep as 1,000 meters to feed on fish and squid. In the daytime they cruise to shallow bays (100 feet or less) usually over sand or an open bottom to rest. One side of their brain sleeps while the other keeps them cruising down near the bottom for several minutes with quick moves to the surface for a breath and then back to the bottom. They need this resting period each day to remain healthy and strong enough to head back out to deeper waters to feed.

 

Some come close to take a look at us as we study them.

Some come close to take a look at us as we study them.

When we first went out with Dolphin Journeys, ours was often the only boat around, with just six swimmers and a crew member in the water to encourage respectful behavior. In recent years the number of operators has grown to a dozen or more in Kailua-Kona area alone. Dolphins in four bays on Hawaii and one on Maui might have as many as sixteen boats near them and 60 to 100 swimmers in the water each morning. Some boats have crew members helping and other seem to just drop their clients in the water, picking them up if the dolphins leave the area or their schedule dictates time to go.

 

Watching dolphins from a boat is interesting but not nearly as powerful, as connecting as seeing them close while in the water. They approach boats and sometimes cruise along with them, seemingly for fun.

Watching dolphins from a boat is interesting but not nearly as powerful, as connecting as seeing them close while in the water. They approach boats and sometimes cruise along with them, seemingly for fun.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) has a policy and enforcement role related to marine mammals and they have set previous guidelines which include directions to not harass dolphins. Recently NOAA’s scientists have expressed concern about increased pressure on dolphins from swimmers, primarily associated with commercial boat tours but also in bays easily reached from the shore, such as Honaunau Bay.

 

A new proposal by NOAA will effectively ban dolphin swims from boats and in coastal waters throughout the islands. It will require swimmers to leave areas of a bay if dolphins come in to rest. NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office is holding six public hearings to get comments about the new regulations. I attended the first one at Konawaena High School and stayed for the first 3 hours of what likely turned out to be five or six hours of comments from 100 or more people with a total audience of 200 or more. As you might expect there were comments both directions – don’t change the regulations and implement the complete ban in coastal waters. Perhaps three-quarters at that meeting preferred the “no change” option.

 

My comments were from my unique perspective with more than four decades of working in interpretation of natural and cultural resources. Swimming near spinner dolphins is one of the most connecting experiences I have ever had. While there are definitely differences in species and circumstances, the situation reminds me of the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

 

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Mountain gorillas have come back from the brink of extinction in E. Africa. Tourism is a critical component for it pays for protection and helps people understand these poorly understood primate relatives of humans.

Researcher Dian Fosse opposed gorilla tourism. After her death, other biologists worked with government officials to develop gorilla tourism in hopes of saving habitat for and providing protection for gorillas. The mountain gorilla population was down to only 220 individuals. Largely due to the anti-poaching protection afforded by tourists with armed guides and guards, it has grown to more than 900 today. A strictly regulated number of tourists go out each day in Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo with wild but habituated gorillas. Gorilla tourists often describe the experience as life changing. Swimming with dolphins has that feel also.

 

Who is helping people learn about dolphins and connect with these fascinating mammals since government agencies do not put ocean interpreters on the water with the public? More than 3,000 paid interpreters with National Park Service and 70,000 volunteers interpret 413 national parks, monuments and battlefields. A few dozen environmental educators and interpreters do similar duties in marine sanctuaries. For the most part, interpretation of dolphins and other marine mammals is left to private dolphin swim operators.

 

Spinner dolphins out swim us with little effort. When they come close, you feel privileged to get a good look. They are amazing.

Spinner dolphins out swim us with little effort. When they come close, we feel privileged to get a good look. They are amazing.

I think these activities should be allowed with some reasonable and enforceable regulations, but the proposed regulations do not seem reasonable or enforceable. NOAA law enforcement representative indicated fines could be as much as $100,000 and a year in jail – just for swimming near dolphins. NOAA lacks the staff to actually monitor these rules and if they did make arrests and get convictions, the public relations reactions could be more damaging than helpful.

 

Most of us who have been near them in the water have stories of dolphins coming over to inspect us, sometimes playfully, sometimes slowly, watching with care. Several who gave comments told anecdotes of dolphins seeking human help to untangle fishing line from their flippers or tails.

 

Largely missed in this conversation is the opportunity for citizen science. If the researchers at NOAA provided survey forms and training to boat operators and dolphin watchers from the shore, data could be collected that might answer some of the many unanswered questions about these unique creatures. Are spinner dolphin populations increasing, staying the same or in decline? What time of day do they arrive at each bay and what time do they leave? What exactly do they do while resting if undisturbed and how does that differ from when they interact with humans? It was interesting that everyone in the room shared a passion for helping dolphins. How do we harness that passion and commonality?

 

Can dolphin watchers, lovers, swimmers and advocates be allowed some accommodation to sharing the waters of Hawaii?

 

If ever we needed more inter-species understanding it is now and those who love dolphins would enjoy being involved in better protection and interpretation of them. NOAA is an agency of science and policy charged with protecting oceans and the atmosphere. We do appreciate what they do as an agency. We also need a grand effort to interpret oceans and connect people with these vital bodies of water and their inhabitants. Here is a great chance to collaborate, protect and interpret these fascinating animals.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

 

Everything We Do Matters!

One of our favorite quotes comes from one of our favorite people, Dr. Jane Goodall, who said:

 

Everything you do makes a difference. Only you can decide what kind of difference you want to make.

 

We were impressed when we first met artist Calley O’Neill because one of the first things she said Calley at the International Wildlife Exhibition, Londonwas “Everything we do matters.” Calley O’Neill is on a mission of inspiration through her unique collaboration with Rama, an Asian elephant, and Jeb Barsh, Rama’s keeper. We had a fascinating first meeting with Calley and her assistant, Julia, during dinner at the home of mutual friends. Conversations ranged far afield, but we soon learned that we share many interests in common.

 

Calley is Artist-in-Residence at the Four Seasons on the Big Island. She also teaches yoga twice weekly in Waikoloa. She has a long career as a muralist, stained-glass artist, painter and landscape designer. She has many clients but especially enjoys working with grade schools to create collaborative murals that light up the eyes and imaginations of young people.

Rama Four

If you watch the attached video, she tells the story of meeting Rama, an Asian elephant who painted at the Oregon Zoo. Much earlier in her life as an artist she had considered collaborating with an abstract artist on paintings that would include her more realistic images, but did not find InterspeciesPainting-OurDedication--element944the right person with whom to work. The idea of working with an elephant on a collaboration of that kind seemed just right. Ten years ago she began the project that will ultimately consist of thirty-six 5’x7’ canvases with Calley’s endangered species paintings overlaid on abstract backgrounds painted by Rama.

 

Rama-Jeb-Calley

Rama, Calley and Jeb at the Oregon Zoo

With 21 of the planned paintings completed, Calley began to try to figure out when, where and how to exhibit these incredible images. She received a bigger first YES! than she could imagine! These wildlife thangka paintings will be presented as the major art exhibition at the IUCN World Conservation Congress comes to Oahu in September of 2016. The conference brings representatives from 170 nations together to share conservation successes and challenges, so it seems fitting that the THE RAMA EXHIBITION, SPEAKING ON BEHALF OF THOSE WHO CANNOT SPEAK, will have its public debut here.

 

Everything-We-Do-Matters---Framing, transporting and displaying these works of art is not inexpensive and cannot be reasonably covered by the IUCN or by Calley herself. The Rama Exhibition team has put together a crowd funding program with Kickstarter.com to help bring this unique collaboration to its first major viewing and then expand around the world to inspire people to think about our ongoing collaboration among all species to live on this Earth together in harmony.

 

You can be part of this unique collaboration between a very talented Big Island artist and the late RAMA, an amazing elephant ambassador born in captivity. Visit Kickstarter to make a contribution and please share the story of Calley’s commitment to conservation awareness and action with your networks.

 

Mahalo nui (many thanks),

Lisa and Tim

Harambe – Rest in Peace

The story of the shooting of Harambe, the lowland gorilla, in Cincinnati commanded the air waves and TV time for several days. Harambe’s story, like that of Cecil the Lion, had the emotional power unique to human/animal interest news.

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Kwitonda, a silver-backed male mountain gorilla enjoys a snack of bamboo shoots.

It reminded me of the great dilemma for management decision-making. When you manage a property visited by people, sometimes you are caught between a rock and a hard place. Cincinnati Zoo managers had to choose between two undesirable options. They chose the almost sure thing in terms of safety for the child, but an option fraught with reasonable criticism. Jack Hanna, famed zoo director and TV spokesman, said they made the right choice. He knows a zoo director who would choose protecting the animal over the safety of a child would likely be fired quickly, even with a good outcome in terms of injuries. Institutional managers and boards are reasonably risk-aversive.

For those of us who have seen gorillas up close in the wild, this was especially painful. People visit habituated gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda each day with highly trained guides and the 400-pound males allow strangers to mingle in their family space without conflict. The silverbacks and the guides keep a watchful eye on all concerned to ensure that everyone gets along and as long as individuals of both species keep a respectful distance from each other. It works. These close cousins of ours are herbivores. They continue to carry on their daily activities and eat bamboo shoots and other plant material with apparent unconcern while being photographed and watched up close. Harambe was habituated from birth at a zoo in Texas. He was not “wild” and never had been. Keepers had observed his behavior and responses to various situations all his life. Would he have harmed the child beyond what the fall did? We will never know.

Harambe’s behavior seemed more protective than threatening from the clips of the event that have aired. Perhaps something more threatening occurred that we didn’t see. Could they have fired a tranquilizer dart first and followed with a gunshot if Harambe reacted badly? Perhaps. But a decision was made and he is dead and no amount of conjecture will bring him back. And the child is safe, an outcome we would all applaud.

How did a child get into this exhibit? That’s under examination and the accident suggests that the fence was inadequate. They have already installed a taller one just days after the event. This kind of sad situation will send zoos all over the world into a reexamination of their emergency procedures and their physical structures that protect both the animals and the public. Did a parent have a lapse in watching the child? Perhaps, but all of us who have raised children have had lapses in attention. The result of this one was unfortunate for all involved. Blaming the mother seems counter-productive. She will live with this close call for her child the rest of her life.

Harambe was never going back to the wild. He was a captive ambassador for relatives in the wild he would never meet. And perhaps the saddest part of the story is the continued threats in Africa to the wild populations of lowland and mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas have moved from a low of 230 animals two decades ago to more than 880 today due to the ability of the nations of Rwanda and Uganda to protect family groups through gorilla tourism, a powerful financial engine that also builds empathy by bringing people up close to these amazing relatives of humans.

The western lowland gorilla, Harambe’s species, is believed to be more numerous than mountain gorillas, but endangered nonetheless. Estimates are that their populations are in sharp decline due to habitat loss and civil wars in their home ranges in several equatorial African nations. And their remote habitats in war zones in tropical rainforest make accurate population surveys impossible.

The future of gorillas in the wild is uncertain and Harambe’s early death did not change that. It did renew the discussion of how zoos handle and protect large animals of all kinds, while simultaneously protecting their visitors. This event hopefully also reminds us of the importance of protecting wild populations. Gorillas deserve protected places in the world, safe from human conflicts and destruction of habitat. We create virtually all of the threats they face. Will we care enough to help these large primates, our distant relatives, have a future? It’s a big question not easily answered. Rest in Peace, Harambe.

A Visit with Mountain Gorillas – CANCELLED 3/21/16

Due to not meeting the minimum travelers needed to tour Rwanda in October, we have cancelled the trip as of March 21, 2016. If you have a group of six or more interested in a tour of Rwanda with us as your interpretive guides, let us know and we can plan for your specific group.

Cook’s Journey

Cook's monument is visible from any point on Kealakekua Bay.

Cook’s monument is visible from any point on Kealakekua Bay.

Each morning I go out for a 2.5 mile jog in our neighborhood on the Big Island of Hawaii. In one stretch of the run I am looking down at Kealakekua Bay and the white obelisk erected to commemorate the location where famed explorer Captain James Cook was killed at age 50 on February 14, 1779. Cook circumnavigated the Earth, mapping many coastlines for the first time, proving New Zealand to be an island and disproving the hoped for Northwest Passage. Cook’s journey ended on the Big Island when he returned to Kealakekua Bay to replace a broken mast. He took King Kalani’opu’u into custody to leverage return of one of his landing boats borrowed by local people. He was stabbed to death by warriors and villagers loyal to the king, ending his third journey of discovery into the uncharted waters of the Pacific Ocean and Coral Sea.

 

PW4JbbgvxHYCSense of place is based on many components with human history being an important element. Our move to this hillside coffee farm on Mauna Loa volcano stimulated me to begin reading Cook’s journals, which I downloaded from Amazon.com. He wrote more than a million words over the years. I found them deadly dull with observations of sailing conditions, bland references to shipboard conditions and reports of disease or punishments handed out, but few of his motivations for exploring. Then I found Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz, a Pulitzer Prize winning author who wrote for the Wall Street Journal and New Yorker.

 

Many biographies have been written about Captain Cook. This book takes you on a unique journey with the author and colorful Aussie friend, Roger, to the modern-day locations Cook visited in the 1760s and 1770s. Horwitz blends his thoughtful observations of the modern realities of his stops along the way with Cook’s own words in his journals. The author speculates about Cook’s motivations and choices after interviewing local people and Cook historians at the locales visited. His extensive research of the varied side stories add charm and detail where needed to help sort out conflicting versions.

 

Horwitz started his research with a tortuous week-long internship as a sailor on a replica of Cook’s first ship, a wooden coal-hauling sailing vessel. Just one week convinced him that surviving a trip with Cook must have required incredible patience and endurance. Later in his research he traveled the Aleutian Islands on a ferry and learned that modern ships sometimes provide a miserable experience in the rugged waters of Alaska and the Bering Sea. His ferry captain observed that Cook’s feats were astonishing in surviving the rugged waters of the arctic.

 

The author also points out the broad influences of Cook on popular culture. I had never made the connection with the fictional Captain James Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, who also traveled with his trusted medical officer, Bones, and Science Officer Spock. James Cook traveled on the HMS Endeavor on his first journey with his trusted surgeon and science specialist.

 

By Nathaniel Dance-Holland - from the National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom - James Cook official portrait

By Nathaniel Dance-Holland – from the National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom – James Cook official portrait

Captain James Cook was a steady and fair captain by most accounts until the last few weeks of his life. He was a whiz at math, a master mapmaker, and ahead of his times in using fresh and preserved foods in keeping his crew alive without the losses from scurvy that plagued other sailors in his time. He traveled tens of thousands of miles in the worst possible conditions, but returned to his home in London for brief visits with family back in England before setting off on another exploration. His words from the 1770s sound like something a NASA astronaut might say today,

            Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go.

Those of us who interpret nature and history rely on biographies to interpret key events and characters in history. Every additional source adds nuance.

Horowitz’ interpretation of Cook’s life and journey is the best biographical and travel reading experience I have ever had. It especially makes a great read before visiting any of the places Cook lived or traveled – Yorkshire UK, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Alaska and Hawaii.

 

  • Tim Merriman

 

P.S. Did I mention we live in Captain Cook, Hawaii?

 

 

Off-Grid Lessons Learned

On April 2nd I wrote about our plans to install an off-grid solar system with Aquion batteries on our new bamboo home on the Big Island of Hawaii. It seemed we had little choice. Off-grid solar was less expensive than hooking up to the electrical grid.

 

Our bali-style bamboo house has nine 275 watt photovoltaic solar panels.

Our bali-style bamboo house has nine 275 watt photovoltaic solar panels.

Seven months later, we live in the home and monitor our 2,475 watt off-grid system on a daily basis. Nine 275-watt panels are mounted on the south-facing roof and an Outback Inverter system and six Aquion 48-volt batteries manage the electrical storage and conversion to the usual AC (alternating) current of our 1,180 square foot home.

 

We rented another home for the 9 months it took to get through this building project that was also off-grid solar. It had lead-acid batteries and I had a taste of monthly checks of the batteries and addition of distilled water. I could hear the boiling liquid in the batteries on sunny mornings. I used a hygrometer to check the condition of the batteries with coaching from a neighbor. I knew to be careful with any acid spillover and scrubbed away corrosion with a bicarbonate of soda bath. When our electricity suddenly disappeared one day, I asked our solar contractor at the new house to look at the system. He found a loose connection where acid had totally eaten away the bolt connection. He quickly fixed it and it all worked again. It was a lesson in the importance of careful maintenance with lead-acid batteries.

 

Six Aquion S20+ saltwater batteries sit behind the house in their own shelter, storing electricity each day.

Six Aquion S20+ saltwater batteries sit behind the house in their own shelter, storing electricity each day.

I generally like new technologies because they often demystify existing technology. I am a new adopter with home computer devices but I am not usually a new adopter with mechanical or electrical systems. Off-grid solar systems seemed to teeter on that uncomfortable edge of being a little too technical for me. But we took the plunge into off-grid solar for good reasons. We like getting away from fossil fuels. We love supporting new technologies that make sense. We love the idea of not having an energy bill monthly. It was simply cheaper up front with the great tax credits from the state and federal government. So, HOW DID IT GO?

 

It’s been great, actually.

 

  • We have no electrical bill at all. On-grid charges in Hawaii are 48 cents a kilowatt hour, about 4 times the rate in most of the U.S.
  • Our viewscape of the ocean is uninterrupted by power poles. On-grid we would have had to install about $20,000 in ugly power poles, that due to the easements, would have obscured our view. Here you have to drill into solid rock to put in transmission poles and that doesn’t come cheap or easy.
  • An Outback Invert regulates the system and converts the DC storage to AC current for the home.

    An Outback Invert regulates the system and converts the DC storage to AC current for the home.

    The entire system we ended up with cost $24,000, but tax credits give back $11,500. Payback for this system from savings with no electric bill is likely about four or five years.

  • We worried that a 2.475 kilowatt system might not be enough to support our needs so living with it has been a learning experience. We usually draw down the batteries about 15% each night with daily use of a refrigerator, microwave, low-speed overhead fans, lighting and electronics. We also run the washing machine once or twice a week. If we get four hours of good sunlight on any given day, it brings the batteries back up to 100% by noon.
  • It would take seven days of no sun at all to draw down the system to 0 and that just doesn’t happen here. The system has a generator backup system that we likely will never need. With saltwater batteries it is okay to draw batteries down below 50% (a bad idea with lead-acid batteries).
  • We installed propane for cooking and a dryer because stoves and dryers require 220-volt power. Our system only produces 110 volts, a choice we made to save some installation dollars.
  • We went with a Solahart 80-gallon unit for hot water at an extra cost of $7,000 with a 30% federal tax credit (so $5,000 as an after-tax expense.) A heat pump would have met the state requirement for being solar powered because it would get its energy from our photovoltaic cells and would have cost one-fourth as much. We didn’t fully understand this until we were committed on the Solahart system. It works well and we are happy with it, but the heat pump option would have been easier and less expensive and if we had to do it over, we would probably go that route.
  • The control panel shows us the level of charge at any time we wish to check.

    The control panel shows us the level of charge at any time we wish to check.

    We simply have no maintenance requirements with the saltwater batteries. Checking the battery storage level daily is reassuring, but is not really necessary for the system performs as promised. RES, a family-owned business in Honokaa, has been our contractor and their installation work went very well and it all works as expected.

 

Certainly, there will be lessons to be learned over time. Aquion batteries are sealed, require no maintenance and should last 20 to 30 years, but time will tell. This is technology available only in the last few years so we

A Solahart 80 gallon collector heats and stores water for our home.

A Solahart 80 gallon collector heats and stores water for our home.

took the risk of seeing how long these batteries will last, having only the manufacturer’s projections.

 

The tax credit incentives provided by the federal government and most state governments are “window in time” opportunities. Eventually the window will close and those incentives will disappear, but they are making affordable solar energy systems a great bargain in most situations. If you haven’t looked into the costs and potential return on investment, now is the time to take a look. The sun will always be shining for you but you have to have the right system to take advantage of it for your home or business.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

Festival of 1000 Bowls

IMG_3105We recently stopped by the Cool Fusion: Festival of 1000 Bowls held by the Donkey Mill Art Center at Keauhou Shopping Center south of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, with only a little idea of what the 4-hour event held in store for us. It was lunchtime and a Somen Noodle lunch is part of the fun of this event highlighting local pottery.

 

For $20 in advance of the event or $25 at entry you may pick a pottery bowl from the specified tables to use that day and take home. A volunteer with an iPad and Square app stands by to let you use a credit card to pay. Then you can shop at the other tables with pottery items to purchase, listen to local musicians or the Innovations Youth Orchestra or join one of two lines for food.

 

IMG_3097Volunteers served up home-style Somen noodles or gluten-free rice noodles. We could add up to eight or nine items of choice including a variety of veggies, kelp, shitake mushrooms, wasabi and fresh ginger. Home-style soy-based soup finishes the dish. We milled around, enjoyed the noodles and went back for seconds. The price includes as many visits to the food table as you wish. For $15 you can buy a pottery sake cup and taste sake samples or you can enjoy iced Kona coffee and tea for free.

 

I like this approach to fundraising because it directly supports the mission of the organization. Pottery sales support local potters, many of whom learned the craft at the DMAC. The food honors the many Japanese-American coffee and macadamia nut farmers that live in this area. The entertainment is local and very much a part of the arts scene for the community.

 

IMG_3100 (1)Too often smaller organizations hold bake sales, car washes and rummage sales to raise funds. These do not usually match the organizational purpose or build a stronger image for the sponsor. When the fundraising event is programmatically aligned with the mission, it works at all levels to build brand. Repeating the event annually usually allows fine-tuning each year to improve profitability. This was the Ninth Annual Festival of 1000 Bowls and it seems to have growing support in the community, fun for residents and tourists alike.

 

Fundraising can be a tedious chore for nonprofit organizations. When events are both purposeful programs and successful in building revenue, everyone has a better time.

 

Tim Merriman