Tag Archives: flying fish

Readers’ stories illustrate concern for marine animals

Published February 9, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2015 Susan Scott


My recent turtle and albatross columns, plus a fish bloom, prompted readers to email me some of their own encounters with marine animals.

Not all the stories were positive. One man threatened to sock a turtle lover with a sinker for asking the angler to fish somewhere besides a turtle hangout. Even so, all the stories are encouraging. They show that people care.

In my turtle rescue column I gave two phone numbers (725-5730 and 288-5685) to call to report injured turtles. But those Oahu numbers left neighbor islanders wondering who they should call. The following website gives current turtle rescue numbers for all islands: 1.usa.gov/1uy2piC.

Our monk seals have a different team of guardians and therefore different phone numbers. The Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline for monk seals injured or in trouble is 888-256-9840. Phone numbers for specific islands are at 1.usa.gov/1ysKPN8.

Now my cellphone contacts named “Turtle” and “Seal” have websites, too.

One reader saw a Japanese tour group taking pictures not 5 feet from a monk seal at Kaena Point. She explained that people must stay at least 150 feet from resting seals, but the visitors didn’t understand. Her good suggestion is that the English signs in the preserve should also be in Japanese and Chinese.


Another Kaena Point concern was that nesting albatrosses were being disturbed by students weeding and planting inside the closed area. The reader worried because the birds were flying and vocalizing far more than in the past.

Having worked with albatrosses, I’m confident that the planters were not disturbing the nesting birds. Albatrosses evolved without predators and don’t fear humans — or hardly anything else.

Years ago on Midway, when the Navy still managed the atoll, I watched nesting albatrosses sit calm and collected as workers rode roaring lawn mowers in circles around the birds’ nests.


The exuberant activity at Kaena right now is from young albatrosses singing and dancing to attract a lifetime mate. The partying is a sign the colony is growing because the birds that pair off at Kaena this year will return next year to raise chicks.


And finally, several readers wrote to report sightings of flying gurnards. The fish don’t fly. Their name comes from winglike fins that fan the ocean floor to uncover shrimp and crabs.

Last fall Hawaii’s flying gurnards had such a population explosion that in some places they were washing ashore.

Think of the pictures you took of these usually rare fish the way I do my letters from readers: as gems to save.

Thank you all for taking the time to write.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott


Airborne to avoid predators, flyingfish get eaten by birds

Published August 11, 2014 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2014 Susan Scott

Two weeks ago Craig and I, with about 40 others, attended our friends’ wedding. We got ready for the ceremony and reception by dressing in shorts and slippers, donning hats and applying sunscreen. The event took place on a boat.

As we left Kewalo Basin, white terns hovered ahead, and off Waikiki a school of black durgons surrounded the catamaran like a party of best men in blue-edged tuxedos. But the animals that caused the group to gasp were marvelous creatures that straddle the worlds of air and ocean: flyingfish, known in Hawaii as malolo.

Lots of marine animals jump from the water into the air. Flyingfish are the only ones that can stay there.

But not for long.

Glides average 10 to 30 seconds, with occasional exceptions. In 2008 a Japanese ferry rider filmed a flyingfish gliding for 45 seconds, the longest airborne time recorded.

Baby flyingfish, called smurfs, look so different from adults that over the years people named about 150 species. Today researchers agree that the worldwide number is between 60 and 70.

The longest grow to 20 inches, but most are between 6 and 12 inches.

The flyingfish family name, Exocoetidae, comes from a Latin word meaning “sleeping outside,” a label resulting from ancient sailors’ belief that flyingfish came ashore at night to sleep.

They don’t, of course, but if fish could wish, this might be high on their list. Just about every predator in the ocean eats flyingfish day and night.

And their glides over water at 30-some mph for up to 300 feet don’t guarantee a getaway. When flying fish leap from tunas below, they’re meals for seabirds above.

Without a boat, flyingfish are nearly impossible to see, and even from a boat, their speed and size make it difficult to determine colors, patterns and behaviors.image

Now, though, we can all see the fantastic fish in vivid detail. For years, author, photographer and bird tour leader Steve N.G. Howell captured flying fish on camera, and shares his stunning photos in a new book called “The Amazing World of Flyingfish” (Princeton University Press, $12.95, 64 pages).

The photos show colorful wings in exquisite patterns. These are reflected in the informal names Howell and friends call the fish: Big Raspberry, Violaceous Rainmaker, Black-eyed Blushwing, Ornate Goldwing and Purple Haze, among others. Howell also includes hard-to-find flyingfish facts.

The close-up pictures of fish gliding and seabirds catching them, as well as the compiled information, are exceptional.

As the wedding catamaran sailed along the Honolulu shoreline, the sparkling school of turquoise malolo bursting from below was such an elegant performance, it brought tears to my eyes.

As did the marriage vows. How privileged I felt to be on a boat surrounded by exquisite marine creatures, off the world’s most beautiful city, in a state where everyone in love and committed to one another can get married.

Congratulations, John and Ed. Your special day was special for us all.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott

Labor’s reward found in offspring, one or many

Published September 1, 1997 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©1997 Susan Scott

My longtime readers may remember my story about a Labor Day many years ago when my mother gave birth to my baby brother. The event was such a sensation in my 11-year-old mind that, since then, Labor Day has had a double meaning to me.

Besides commemorating workers, the day also honors those who perform the supreme labor: that of perpetuating life on Earth.

In the world of fish, this labor comes in many forms, ranging from the release of eggs and sperm into open water and leaving the rest to nature, to the provision of nutrients to embryos developing inside a female fish’s body.

Tunas are typical of the first hit-and-miss type of reproduction. These schooling fish spawn in the warm upper layer of the open ocean. Each female tuna releases about 50,000 floating eggs per pound of body weight, and each male releases millions of sperm in the vicinity. The eggs that get fertilized hatch in about 30 hours.

It’s a lonely, perilous world these youngsters face. When the tiny tuna, only 0.1 inch long, begins its life in the marine world of fish-eat-fish, its parents are long gone. The mortality rate is staggering.

Although not many tuna hatchlings make it to maturity, not many have to. Of the millions, only two need to reach adulthood to keep the tuna population stable.

This type of reproduction may seem easy on the parents, but the cost is high.

Producing millions of eggs and sperm at each spawning requires tremendous amounts of energy.

At the opposite extreme are sharks, which produce fewer eggs and less sperm but use considerable energy giving their offspring a head start.

All sharks have internal fertilization, meaning the males deliver sperm directly inside the female through extensions of their pelvic fins. In many species, the female retains her eggs inside her body until they hatch, then gives birth.

Some kinds of sharks, such as sand tigers, threshers, makos and maybe great white sharks, have a unique way of nourishing their unborn pups.

One embryo remains in the mother’s body, eating its later-arriving siblings. The young of these sharks have the advantage of entering the world already fairly large.

Most sharks found in Hawaii have a more familiar way of feeding their unborn babies. A tube, called a pseudo-umbilicus, connects each embryo to the mother’s tissue. When the embryos are large enough to survive, the little sharks are born.

Between these extreme reproductive labors lie variations as vast as the ocean itself:

 Flying fish lay eggs bearing sticky threads that attach to floating seaweed. This natural cover likely gives hatchlings more protection than they have simply floating free in the open ocean.

 Pipefish and seahorses are a human female fantasy. In these fish, it is the males who become pregnant. The female deposits her eggs into the male’s stomach pouch, then takes off. The distended male incubates the eggs for 10 to 50 days, after which his tiny babies pop out.

In seahorses, the youngsters immediately head to the surface for a gulp of air, which helps them swim upright.

 Cardinalfish are also a female dream-come-true as far as the work goes. During the spawning season, females lay masses of eggs. Males fertilize them, then collect them in their mouths, holding them until they hatch. Sometimes the males’ mouths are so full of eggs, they can’t close their jaws completely.

 Then there are the female wrasses and parrotfish that get tired of all that egg-laying and simply turn into males. Many wrasse species spawn in groups, releasing eggs and sperm in a rapid upward rush. I’ve watched this happening and it looks like pure fish ecstasy. Procreative labor does have its rewards.