Ocean Watch

By Susan Scott

Friday, May 11, 2001

The truth about krill,
brave turtles and needles

I recently discovered a way to file my e-mail letters that makes it easy to browse their text.

This is good because my mail is fun. Take this one. "I have a needlenose and am having a great deal of trouble finding information on it. I was wondering if you could give me the proper name of the fish?"

Oh, good, it's a fish we're talking about here. Even so, as readers of last week's column on fish names know, this is a hard question to answer.

But here goes.

The needlefish species we most often see in Hawaii is called the keeltail needlefish (official common name), flat-tailed needlefish (unofficial common name), keeled needlefish (another unofficial common name), stickfish (local name), Platybelone argalus (scientific name) and 'aha (Hawaiian name).

Personally, I like needlenose.

Another letter tells a good story about Hawaii's increasingly tame turtles.

A Hawaii couple took some visiting family members to South Beach near the Big Island's Mauna Lani Resort. While their 4-year-old grandson played in the sand, the wife waded a few feet into the water. Thinking a nudge to her leg was the child, the woman started talking to him. When no reply came, she turned and, to her delight, saw a foot-wide turtle brushing up against her legs.

A passerby saw this interaction and said sharply, "There's a $10,000 fine for touching those turtles!"

The husband asked, "How much does a turtle get fined for touching a human?"

The entire family, he writes, loved the friendly turtle experience.

OK, here's an e-mail trivia question: "Could you tell me the name of the boat in 'Sea Hunt?'"

I was a "Sea Hunt" fanatic as a kid but could not dredge up the name of that boat. I wrote this to my reader, adding that I didn't know where to find out, either. Days later, this note arrived: "I found out. It was Aquanaut."

Oh, I knew that.

A fellow traveler to the Southern Continent writes, "While I was in Antarctica, I was hoping to see a mass of krill but saw only one solitary, shrimplike animal swimming next to an iceberg. I'm confused about krill.

"Some sources say they're shrimp and others say they aren't. Which is it?"

They aren't. But shrimp and krill are close cousins that look much alike.

My favorite invertebrate-biology textbook describes krill as "shrimplike crustaceans with shrimplike bodies."

Scientists, however, classify shrimp and krill in different orders. Shrimp are in the order Decapoda (10 feet) and krill in the order Euphausiacea (shining bright).

Krill deserve their own order because they have unique traits. They can molt in one second and if alarmed literally jump out of their skin. The shed shell may act as a decoy.

IN ANTARCTIC WATERS, krill live in swarms covering areas as large as several city blocks. From the air (I've heard) these gatherings look like giant amoebas slowly changing shape.

Even though such swarms go about 15 feet deep, the greatest concentration of krill is near the surface. There, one cubic yard can contain 60,000 individuals.

Finally (for this week), I received two e-mails from a nurse regarding my column on treating the pain of box jellyfish stings at the beach. She writes, "Your advice to 'go home and leave it alone' could result in death for the few individuals who have a toxic reaction to jellyfish."

Yes, a few people have bad reactions to box jellyfish stings. Therefore, if you have difficulty breathing or feel faint after a jellyfish (or any animal) sting, please don't go home. Call 911.

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

E-mail to City Desk

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