Monthly Archives: March 2016

Giant Aliens of Kona

Okay, so they aren’t aliens.  They are actually giant fish- Manta Rays to be exact-and when people visit us in Kona one of their top priorities is to see these rays.  It’s a breathtaking show of tumbling, spinning, and, well, eating really.  It has been described as an underwater Vegas show which is spot on.  However,  in this version the showgirls are trying to put on the pounds!  There are lights shining everywhere and constant action, there’s so much going on that you’re not even sure where to look.


The show is really all about the manta rays, but just like Vegas, every once in a while we get a cameo so amazing it blows even the local divers minds.  No, I’m not referring to Celine Dion or Frank Sinatra, for us islanders we get giddy when a native Hawaiian Monk Seal appears on the show!

H01 Monachus schauinslandii watermarked

Don’t get me wrong, the manta rays are incredible, but I am more a mammal girl myself.  It’s what I focused on while obtaining my marine science degree right here on island and they have been the center of my careers since then.  Heck, they still occupy my life on my weekends when I volunteer.  But for those of you from New England and California I’m sure you are saying “seal, What’s exciting about that?”  Well, let me tell you.

Currently, there are only about 1,000 of these seals left in the world and they are only found in the Hawaiian archipelago.  Of those thousand animals only about 6 of them are residents to our Big Island.  And of those 6, one of them has found an affinity for our Manta Ray night dive.  This individual, one of a few very highly endangered seals, is named Waimanu.  Born in Waimanu valley (they got really creative with names, huh?)  she is a gorgeous, chubby 8 year-old pinniped.  Some may live to be between 25-30 years old, so Waimanu is a relatively young girl.

Monk seal yawn copy

That being said, she has already been a mom twice, that we know of… Unfortunately, even with all the watchful, helpful eyes of the locals, neither pup (baby) made it.  This is the reality with these animals. They are endangered by unrelenting pollution, trash, wayward and discarded fishing line, hooks, and even reduced prey source.

I am proud to say that our community is working to protect all our ocean wildlife.  In the past few years we have banned plastic shopping bags completely. There is currently a bill to ban one use plastics (Styrofoam, plastic utensils, etc.) so less of it ends up in our oceans. We are also constantly participating in beach clean-ups and ocean clean-ups.  We make sure the fish we chose to eat is locally and sustainably caught.  There is even a hospital in Kona specifically set-up to rehabilitate Hawaiian Monk Seals (Ke Kai Ola).  I’m more than proud to call this place home and even more proud to call Kona and Kona Honu Divers my community.

So why is it exciting to see Waimanu?  Maybe it’s partly because she’s a highly endangered species, maybe it’s because she’s an extremely graceful, big, beautiful animal, maybe it’s because she has an extremely cute face that melts your heart.  For me, it’s exciting to see her because she is a part of our community, a contributing member just like the rest of us and every time we see her it inspires us to be stewards to our ocean and share the love with our guests.  Plus, let’s face it, it is just cool!

-Tara Spiegel



Black Water: Squid

Most squid, Sthenoteuthis included, have less than a year to be born, grow, and reproduce before they expire.  This translates into an incredibly high metabolism. Young squid in captivity can eat nearly half their body weight five times per day 2.5 times their body weight per day! That would be like me eating 450lbs of food!  Adult Sthenoteuthis are easily the most common cephalopods we see on blackwater dives.  They can be seen as the large shoals the edges of our lights as we drift through the pelagios on our bi-weekly Black Water Dive.

Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis school small watermarked (1)

This week we get to meet the anomaly that is the purpleback flying squid (Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis).  They are called “flying squid” because, like Exocoetids (aka flying fish) they can leap and glide across the surface of the water to escape predators that skirt the edges of our lights as we drift through the pelagios.  They spend their days hiding in a region between 200-1000 meters deep in the midwater known as the oxygen minimum zone.  This is an area where animals with higher metabolic demands cannot sustain their bodily functions due to low levels of available oxygen.  So while the low oxygen levels keep the squid safe from their most fearsome predators like tuna, the squid itself requires large concentrations of oxygen as well, thus the conundrum.  It turns out that squid kept in tanks containing low-oxygen water can shut their metabolism down to a tenth of the normal rate of consumption.  This means that the squid may not only be hiding from predators in the oxygen minimum zone, but it may be using the cold, dark, low-oxygen environment of the OMZ to shut down its metabolism and wait out daily periods of low-foraging opportunity when the squid would otherwise just starve.

Sthenoteuthis ouahaniensis small watermarked (3)

Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis watermarked (1)

Pan-tropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata) often come in to forage on the schools of Sthenoteuthis attracted to our lights.  One night, a dolphin pod came in to dine and hit the squid school just under the water’s surface.  I watched this shiny object drifting down under the scene and recognized it as a squid’s eyeball drifting into the blackness.

Squid Eyeball 2 watermarked (1)

-Jeff Milisen


Women in Diving

Written by: Cassandra Martin

In great celebration of International Women’s Day, a day dedicated to the great strides women

Naval Special Operations Officer Susan Trukken

Naval Special Operations Officer Susan Trukken wearing more than 200 pounds of diving equipment

have made through social, economic, and political movements I would like to pay tribute to all of the exceptional females who have and are continuing to make a greater contribution to the underwater community. The original members of the diving community bravely paved the way for the present female influence on global marine and underwater education. The Women Divers Hall of Fame celebrates the pioneers, leaders, innovators, and world record holders throughout the international diving community. Pioneer Susan Trukken set standards high for both women and men in 1980 when she graduated as the first female special operations officer at the Naval School of Diving and Salvage in Washington DC. When compiling research in the naval document “Equipment Development for the Fleet” Trukken began her research document regarding first-hand knowledge about the primitive diving technology used by saying “Experience is a great teacher…”


Thirty six years later women continue to master their skills using the same mantra. Pushing boundaries in competitive diving women are also making waves in freediving world records. Recently Mandy-Rae Cruickshank of Canada reached a depth of 289 feet in two minutes and 48 seconds off of the Cayman Islands using no weights and a single breath A technique freedivers categorize as “constant ballast.” Competitive freediving came out of the woodwork’s in the late 1940’s and while a fairly new sport its’ growth has thus far been exponential. The practice of diving on a single breath of air can be dated back thousands of years. Japanese women known as “Ama” meaning “sea woman” used this same practice to collect pearls over two thousand years ago.

Mandy rae freedive

Competitive Freediver Mandy-Rae Cruickshank


ama pearl diver

Ama pearl diver in Japan







Along with intensive competitive diving women are making major contributions to oceanic research. The Marine Megafauna Foundation was founded by Andrea Marshall in 2008 she was the first person worldwide to receive a PhD in Manta Ray studies. She is involved in innovative research, education, and legislation constantly striving to advocate for the protection of our oceans. At age 12 Andrea became a certified diver and was originally interested in being a shark conservationist however upon her first encounter with Manta Rays on a vacation to Mozambique she uncovered her true calling. She began conducting research which lead to the discovery that there are two different types of Manta Rays, Pelagic Birostris Manta Rays and Coastal Alfredi Manta Rays (the coastal species we encounter in Kona!) earning her the title “Queen of the Mantas.” In Andrea Marshall’s promotional video for the Marine Megafauna Foundation she passionately says “To know that our efforts are making a difference, to actually see that momentum is what keeps us going, is what keeps us fighting here.” This type of conviction appears again and again in the underwater world. To learn more about how to become involved with Andrea Marshall visit To all of you underwater women I would like to say Congratulations and thank you for taking upon our greatest challenges, here at Kona Honu Divers we celebrate and thank you!

andrea marshall # 1

Dr. Andrea Marshall founder of The Marine Megafauna Foundation

andrea marshall # 3

Dr. Andrea Marshall with a Manta Ray

andrea marshall #2

Dr. Andrea Marshall