Animals fascinate me, especially ones I’ve never encountered before. That happened many times during our trip to Hawaii. That’s to be expected. According to this article, 90 percent of all the species that live on land in Hawaii can only be found in Hawaii. (And when you consider the fact that there are 26,608 known species on land and sea combined in Hawaii, that’s even more impressive.) In fact, the Hawaiian Islands have more endemic species than the Galapagos islands do. I was really looking forward to reveling in this diversity of life.
I’ve already written about Our Most Excellent Manta Ray Adventure, and also about The Flowers and Birds of Hawaii, as well as Snorkeling in Hawaii, so I won’t dwell on the amazing creatures we came across that I’ve already discussed. But believe it or not, there is still much to tell.
I think one of our most unique experiences was watching sea turtles come up on Poipu Beach in Kauai. They are fascinating in and of themselves, but to our surprise, they were escorted to shore by a monk seal. That’s two endangered species in one sighting. Check, check!
I was mesmerized. Fortunately, Dear Husband had the presence of mind to take a video of this moment before the monk seal took his leave. Here it is.
And just for fun, DH also did a time lapse video of the turtles coming up on the beach, because, let’s face it: it’s not as if they’re going to break any land speed records. So here’s the turtle equivalent of an action sequence:
As I watched the sun go down on the sea turtles of Poipu Beach, as cliché as this is going sound, I knew without a doubt that this place is paradise. I couldn’t believe my luck, to actually be standing there bearing witness to these miracles of nature. Sometimes I think I’m the luckiest person on earth.
I really hoped that we’d see some turtles in action while we were snorkeling, but no such luck. We would have kept a respectful distance, of course. Hawaii takes its turtles seriously, as well it should.
We also got to see some more sea turtles at the black sand beach of Punalu’u on the Big Island. That beach also had a beautiful plaque that told the story of Kauila and the Sea Turtles of Punalu’u. The artwork was gorgeous, but I knew you’d be interested in the story as well, so I made certain to take a picture of that. (Just for you, Dear Reader. See there? You are never far from my thoughts.)
Although obviously neither wild nor native to Hawaii, it seemed that every resort had some koi, and they were often quite large. I was surprised that they weren’t bothered by birds of prey or racoons or otters or something, as they would be in Florida. It turns out that there aren’t any racoons or otters on these islands, and there are only two birds of prey in the entire state, and ironically, neither of them eat fish.
If we saw a Hawaiian hawk, it was only at a distance. The other bird of prey is the Pueo, a ground nesting owl. One flew right across the highway in front of our car one night. I got a good look at it, but DH was driving so he didn’t see it. And of course, she was long gone before I could raise my camera. What a beautiful bird!
To listen to the different types of calls that Pueo make (and indeed learn more about all things Pueo), check out this page. Sadly, Pueo populations are in great decline because their nests are on the ground, which makes them quite vulnerable to invasive species. That’s particularly true on the Big Island, which has mongoose. I saw three mongoose during our visit, but those suckers are just too fast to photograph.
Mongoose were intentionally introduced to the Big Island in hopes of getting rid of another invasive species, the rats that arrived on the island via the first visiting European ships. (One of their descendants ran across my foot while we were walking through the Thurston Lava Tube, causing me to jump out of my skin.) But it turns out that mongoose are active during the day, whereas rats are nocturnal, so that rat eradication didn’t go to plan. However, a mongoose can wipe out a flock of chickens in the blink of an eye, and that may be one of the reasons that the Big Island isn’t up to its eyeballs in chickens like Kauai is. Sadly, they also have a taste for Pueo.
Hawaii wants tourists to think they have no snakes, and some people mistakenly believe that there once were snakes, but the mongoose took care of them. In fact, there are several invasive species, mainly concentrated in Oahu, but they have never been an issue to human beings. They haven’t been as kind to wildlife. Therefore, it’s actually illegal to have a pet snake in Hawaii.
The state does have one native snake species, the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake. It is venomous, but it’s also rare. There is no record of a human being killed by this sea snake. All snake sightings in Hawaii are so rare that it’s not unusual for a Hawaiian to go his or her whole life without seeing one.
One of the tour guides we met told us that on Kauai, it was proposed that snakes be introduced to get rid of the irritating chicken situation, but people decided they’d much rather have chickens than snakes, even if they do wake you up at 4 a.m. with their crowing.
There are wild boar/feral pigs in Hawaii, and I got a glimpse of some of those. I’m glad I was inside the car. They looked scary. (Check out this article about a freak encounter that a surfer had with one of them.) They are one of the most destructive invasive species in the islands, along with the wild goats.
Another story our guide told us was that the Hawaiian word for goat is “kau,” and that’s pronounced “cow”. The guide said that one of the Hawaiian monarchs of the 1700’s wanted cows because he had heard about the many benefits of having them. Captain Cook (or one of his contemporaries) had no cows with him, but he had brought goats, and in an effort to impress the king, he gifted a few and said they were cows.
That sounds plausible, and it’s certainly amusing, but I looked all over the internet for confirmation of this story, and could not find it. One thing can’t be denied, though. Now those pesky goats are everywhere.
In fact, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture doesn’t regulate the hunting of goats, but you may want to check with your local game warden before opening fire. Another attempt to reduce the kau population was when the state gave away wild goats on the lottery system. You can practically hear them begging you to take one off their hands, can’t you?
There are also feral sheep, horses and cows, but I’m pretty sure that all the ones we saw were domesticated. (I was really surprised by the amount of farmland on the islands, in a state where land is so expensive that it’s now out of reach of many of the natives.)
I saw several bats fly past us at dusk on both islands, and at one condo where we stayed, an anole visited our patio on multiple occasions, making me homesick for the anoles of Florida. And one day a crab crossed our path on the beach.
Coqui frogs have hitched rides to Hawaii on houseplants shipped from Puerto Rico, and have all but taken over several of the islands. In the interest of full disclosure, I happen to love these frogs, and delighted in being able to record their calls on the Big Island. That’s a sound I hadn’t heard since visiting Puerto Rico, and it brought back wonderful memories. Here’s my recording.
Despite my nostalgia, these frogs have been a disaster for Hawaii. They have no natural predators there, and because of that, in some areas, there are 55,000 coqui per hectare, whereas they max out at 24,000 per hectare in their native habitat.
I may love their vocalizations, but many people find them loud, persistent, and annoying, as they go on from dusk to dawn. These frogs also decimate many bugs, including pollinators, and they’ve impacted tourism and property values.
During our trip, I expected to see lots of spiders, and I wasn’t looking forward to that, but to my relief I saw very few. I was constantly scanning the ocean in the hopes of seeing whales and dolphins. No such luck. I also hoped to see octopus and tiny sharks while snorkeling. Again, nope. But all these creatures were quite prevalent in the many delightful murals throughout the islands, which I wrote about here.
So yes, we saw a lot of fauna during our trip. Many, but not all, are invasive. If you learn only one thing when visiting the Aloha State, let it be this: Humans should never tamper with nature.
Never before have I visited a place that gave me the impression that the land itself was a living entity. Like an animal, it breathes and changes and adapts and grows. It is critically important that we treat it, and its many fragile ecosystems, with respect. Because there’s no place on earth like Hawaii.
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