Distinct isle anemones stow their okole at aquarium

Published January 6, 2018 in the
“Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2018 Susan Scott

On exhibit at the Waikiki Aquarium is a Mann’s anemone, a variety found only in Hawaii. ©2018 Susan Scott

I had no new year’s resolutions this year until I received an email last week from a Honolulu Zoo volunteer who saw a kolea in full spring breeding colors. This was the second person who alerted me to this unseasonably attired plover wintering at the zoo, and off I went with my camera.

Afterward, having experienced a Christmas miracle — a side-street parking space — I walked across the street to the Waikiki Aquarium.

I enjoyed both facilities so much that I promised myself I would visit these wildlife havens more often in the coming year. To cement this spur-of-the moment resolution, I bought 2018 memberships.

Our zoo has fallen on hard times these past few years, but the good news is that the animals are still there and upgrades are in progress. During my search for the dressed-up plover, I spoke to several employees and volunteers, and without exception they were friendly, helpful and upbeat about the zoo’s future.

In light of all the time I spend snorkeling and reading about marine life, you might think that the aquarium wouldn’t hold any surprises for me. But wait, what’s this? On exhibit is an anemone, called Mann’s anemone, found only in Hawaii that I didn’t know existed.

An anemone looks like a single, cylindrical coral body without the hard skeleton around it. Its bottom is a disc that either attaches to something solid or anchors itself in sand or mud. Stinging tentacles surround a central mouth.

The aquarium had several Mann’s anemones, no small feat. The creatures live in intertidal zones exposed to waves and are hard to keep in captivity. The gorgeous pinkish-purple anemones are about 4 inches wide and 2 inches tall. The sign near the animals made me laugh out loud. It says that the Hawaiian name for these animals, is okole, meaning rear end.

The aquarium also has superb sea horse exhibits. As I admired the charming little ponies, a friendly visitor told me that the Japanese name for sea horses translates to “dropped dragons,” another name that made me smile.

I did not find the tuxedoed plover at the zoo during my first spin through, so after the aquarium visit I took advantage of my new zoo membership and popped in for another look around.

That’s one advantage of joining up. Visits can be brief. And if you go at midday you might even find free parking.

During my second spin through the zoo, I found flocks of delighted children and pooped parents, but again, no tuxedoed kolea.

That’s OK. I’ll be back to look again. And during my shoreline swims I’ll keep my eyes peeled for Mann’s anemones.

I know already that it’s going to be a good year.