Ocean Watch

By Susan Scott

Monday, November 22, 1999

Ala Wai clues, and
you can drown a fish

Each year during Thanksgiving week, I spend some time reflecting upon the many good things life has passed my way. This year, one big gift stands out: I am still writing this column for the Star-Bulletin.

Apparently, you readers are glad about that, too, because I have been receiving an unusual number of phone calls and e-mail messages lately. Some of these are questions, some are answers -- and all are fun.

Take the suggestions about what might have caused the strange splash that occurred in the Ala Wai Boat Harbor near my sailboat recently (Ocean Watch, Nov. 1):

Bullet A former harbor resident used to hear big splashes at night and believed them to be ono or barracuda feeding.
Bullet Another harbor resident once saw, out of the corner of her eye, "something odd, not small, not familiar, that caused a weird, drop-stomach, shaky feeling.... "
Bullet Two large sea turtles live in the harbor, small "Nessies," one reader writes. It could have been one of them.
Bullet Manta ray. (I love the succinctness of this e-mail. Under "Subject" were two words, MANTA RAY, followed by the lead sentence from my splash column.)
Bullet Either a dolphin or monk seal likely caused the splash, because those animals could fast disappear.

Finally, here's my best-guess choice from a local marine biologist:

Bullet A spotted eagle ray. They are common in the harbor and make a big splash when landing flat, the biologist writes. While surfing outside the Ala Wai, this man once had a jumping eagle ray nearly land on him.

Another fun batch of letters came from the column in which I confessed some secrets. Yep, there are other biologists out there afraid of scuba diving, particularly at night. One reader offered these words of wisdom: "Isn't it wonderful that ... we can enjoy even in the face of fear?"

I also found that lots of other Hawaii people don't particularly relish the taste of fish. One man offered a recipe for ono that sounds pretty good. I'll try.

And here's an interesting comment: During a phone conversation, a reader told me she hated my column on jellyfish earrings (Oct. 25). Why? It was "too feminine." She had imagined me to be a no-nonsense biologist who didn't indulge in such silliness.

Oops. Wrong image. I love silly, especially when it comes to animal earrings. In fact, the ones I'm wearing in the column picture are silver sea turtles with tiny, moveable flippers, another special gift.

A flood of comments came from my shark finning column of Nov. 8. I expected irate letters about my remark that cutting fins off live sharks is just another method of killing fish, which routinely includes hooking, drowning, stabbing, clubbing and suffocating them.

But no. Among numerous supportive comments about the need to reduce the wastefulness of finning, came this question from two separate readers: "How do you drown a fish?"

A fish drowns when it is prevented from breathing (obtaining oxygen) while underwater.

When fish swim, water passes through their mouths and into their gills, where they extract oxygen. Stop a fish from swimming, such as by dangling it from a hook, and the fish is deprived of oxygen and dies. Some fish can pump water over their gills while resting, but this is tough when hooked. Eventually, they, too, drown.

This year, with the prognosis of the Star-Bulletin uncertain, I'm especially thankful for this great job that keeps me in touch with so many ocean lovers. I hope that next Thanksgiving I can say the same.

Marine science writer Susan Scott's Ocean Watch column
appears Mondays in the Star-Bulletin. Contact her at

E-mail to City Desk

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