Ocean Watch

By Susan Scott

Monday, November 1, 1999

Strange splash: Writer
wise or is she all wet?

I enjoy hearing a good ghost story as much as the next person, but I must admit that during the telling, the logic circuits of my brain start overheating. "Don't believe it," the scientific side of me usually shouts. "There's a reasonable explanation for what happened."

That's why my experience on my docked sailboat last week bugs me so much. I just cannot figure it out.

I was below deck using my laptop when I heard a huge splash near the boat. Certain that someone had fallen in the water, I rushed up the companionway and jumped onto the finger pier.

There, I saw water dripping from everything: the side of the boat, the pier and the surf skis stored beneath it.

I stared into the water, waiting anxiously for someone to come bursting to the surface. All I saw was widening concentric circles.

I paced the pier. The area was silent and empty. Since the harbor is a big open space, no one could have heaved something into the water and gotten away that fast. I scanned the boat for a fallen part and checked the stored kayaks for slippage. Everything was in its place.

You might wonder why it didn't occur to me that a marine animal had made the big splash. It did. But I have been hanging around this boat for years, and I know well the sounds of mullet jumping, turtles surfacing and schools of tilapia spooking. Also, I know the sound of someone falling into the water from the pier. This was that big of a splash.

My husband, Craig, arrived at the boat, and I told the story. "Could a person sink to the bottom that fast?" I asked him.

"Susan, there is no dead body down there."

"How do you know?"

After some cajoling, I talked him into diving to the bottom beneath the boat. As a better-than-average free diver, and a doctor, I figured Craig was a far better candidate than me for finding something awful down there.

He popped up. Nothing.

I sent him back down. Finally, after several dives he balked. "There is nothing down there," he said. "I promise. The silt isn't even disturbed."

OK, so it must have been a marine animal. But what kind? I'll never know. But I do understand better now how spooky tales can get a foothold in the imagination, especially in the ocean where we can't see what's going on.

Speaking of not being able to see marine animals, I have had numerous calls and letters regarding the tame turtles I saw near the surf break called Laniakea. Some readers can't find the location; others didn't see any turtles once they got there.

First, here's how to get to the beach where I saw some 40 turtles at the shoreline: From Haleiwa, drive toward Waimea Bay about 1.5 miles. Look for a spot where the road cuts close to the ocean on the left. (The next cross street is Pohaku Road.) On the right, there's a gravel parking space. Park there, cross the highway and walk the beach. That's where I saw the turtles, in both rocky and sandy areas.

I saw them, however, when there was absolutely no surf -- the water that day was as flat as it gets on the North Shore. When the surf is up, the turtles understandably move to calmer grazing grounds.

Since this phenomenon of turtles coming ashore to eat from people's hands is a new one, no one knows its pattern yet.

Hopefully, next summer, when the water gets flat again, the turtles will return with all their previous trust and friendliness. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, watch out for the Phantom of the Ala Wai. The truth is down there.

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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