"" Writer's Wanderings: February 2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pavlov's Sharks?

It's finally happened. A diver was fatally bitten by a shark during a shark dive in the Bahamas where the dive company was feeding the sharks. It's not the first time a diver has been bitten by a shark during such a dive. It is the first death. This is reminiscent of the the stories you see where no one installs a signal crossing at a railroad intersection until a certain number of people die there.

Some divers will do anything (like some drivers) for the rush--like pulling the tail of a nurse shark. Shortly after we took this picture someone else came along and tried to aggravate this creature. I've seen some divers work themselves into a frenzy over diving with sharks--not because of research or the casual encounter but because of the sheer adrenaline rush of being in the middle of a shark feeding frenzy. Shark diving is bringing in the dollars.

Some researchers and diving associations are finally beginning to admit that perhaps they are changing the behavior of the sharks by coming to a dive location and dropping chum or a "chumsicle" (a frozen clump of fish part) into the water with divers on a regular basis. Long ago I learned about Pavlov's dogs. Didn't anyone else get that in elementary science?

While sharks may not salivate, I've seen how they congregate when they've been conditioned to being fed. In Walker's Cay in the Bahama's, the shark feeding dive begins by going to the spot where they discovered sharks congregated because garbage (including fish parts) was dumped there each day. They surmised that the sharks heard the truck and approached because they knew the sound meant food.

At the beginning of each shark dive the boats circle the area where the dive is to be. The sound of the boats has now become the cue to the sharks that there is food available. Divers are put into the water and kneel in a large circle around a "chumsicle" and watch as the sharks weave in and out among them to have at the chum.

It's not a big leap to think that food and divers can be associated. Certainly we are not on the food chain for sharks. They bite but they don't like what they get is what we're told. Still, whenever you dive near a place that does a shark feeding dive, there are always those gray forms that appear and silently slip by--perhaps trailing a little saliva.

So, you ask, how do you really feel about this?


Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Hawaiian Welcome

While we were in Hawaii, we visited three different churches, two in Lahaina on Maui, and one in Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii. I was amazed at how many visitors there were and at how welcomed all were made to feel. Each church passed out leis to the visitors and each lei was unique--fresh flowere, shells, and braided ribbon. But gifts aside, the greatest gift was being sought out and welcomed by pastors and members. They truly grasp the idea of the "family" of God.

I would like to think this is the norm for all churches but as I have recently visited churches in my own hometown, I've found that visitors are often left to their own coming and going. I've even directly approached pastors in receiving lines after services and never been asked my name.

Perhaps it's cultural. Hawaii does have a Polynesian background. Maybe it has something to do with a warmer climate and cool sea breezes rather than snow and ice. It is definitely not denominational. I have visited several different denominations both here at home and in Hawaii.

Shame on us who don't make our visitors to our church homes feel welcomed and loved. And kudos to the Hawaiians for their Christian hospitality and caring enough to welcome strangers into their midst. After all, Paul said, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2 NIV)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lava Flows from Pu'u O'o

With fear and trepidation, I agreed to an airplane ride over the volcano that is now spewing lava. Originally, when we planned our trip last year, there was lava flowing into the ocean and it could be observed by hiking out to a "safe" viewing area. Our plan to hike and view was scratched when several days after our cruise stop in Hilo in June, there were a series of small earthquakes that caused the lava flow to be diverted. The only way to see it now is by air.

My fear is not unfounded but rather stems from losing two good friends to a helicopter crash in Kauai. No way would I get in a helicopter. A plane felt much safer. We found an operation called Island Hoppers that did a wonderful job of making us feel comfortable--after our youthful pilot got done joking that he was only seventeen.

Anthony flew over the area known as Pu'u O'o where you can look down into some of the open craters and see the lava boiling below. The videos are a bit shaky. The heat rising from the lava made the plane ride a little bumpy at times but Anthony always warned us when it was to happen and I've had worse rides on commercial airlines. All in all, it was an amazing trip.

As you view the video, keep in mind that this was during the day so it was a little more difficult to see the red color except in the most intense areas where rivers of it flowed. All the areas you see that are a shiny gray are where the lava is flowing and cooling as it moves out toward where it will eventually hit the ocean, I guess, if it is not diverted again.

Our pilot Anthony and plane.
Island Hoppers flys out of Kona and Hilo

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Whales--Up Close and Personal!

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, it did! Today we were actually held captive by three whales. Federal regulations in the basin between Maui, Molokai, and Lanai require a boat to cut their engines if a whale is within a hundred yards. This helps to avoid a whale being injured by a turning propeller. Just as we were ready to head back from our whale watching, three whales approached our boat and dove under it. We stopped and they turned around and circled our boat, diving under and surfacing right next to it.

We were so close, we got sprayed twice from their blow holes. I think they were having as much fun with us as we were with them. I hope the next boat load of watchers got as good a view. They had to wait an extra hour for us to return.

The pictures at the right show a behavior called a spy hop. The whale pokes its head up long enough to take a look around and then pops back down under the water.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hana Ho!

Venturing out again on a whale watching expedition, we were rewarded many times over with sightings. As a matter of fact, the captain just stopped the boat at one point and we were surrounded by whales.

These first video clips are of a young calf breaching. He seemed to be very playful and almost responded on cue to our "Hana Ho!"

As we were sitting still in the water, we noticed what's called a "competition group." There were 4 or 5 whales in the group probably mostly males and competing for the privilege of mating with a female. As we watched, we realized they were headed for our boat--at full speed! It looked like four or five 40 ton torpedoes coming straight at us.

What an amazing morning.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Whale of a Time!

Sitting on our lanai on the twelfth floor of the condo building we have quite a view of ocean between Maui and Molokai. The area is somewhat shallow (200-350 feet we're told) and is relatively calm. This is ideal for the whales who have come here to calve and to mate.

As I look out, I can see big splashes in the water where whales--mostly the males--are slapping thier tails on the surface, or splashing with their pectoral fins, or just plain jumping for joy--or, being male, attention. They are a little too far out today to capture with my camera but I have circular impressions around my eyes from pressing binoculars to them constantly.

Today we stopped at a lookout near McGregor's point where the Pacific Whale Foundation has a naturalist stationed to answer questions. I know that the whales weigh around 80,000 pounds and are between 40-45 feet long but I wanted to know how to translate that into language a young grandchild would understand. The naturalist accomodated me. "Think large yellow schoolbus. Every kid knows how big that is."

So now, imagine something the size of a large schoolbus having the power to lift 80,000 pounds of blubber out of the water. Now imagine the splash that makes! Each time a whale breaches, it's appropriate to yell, "hana ho!" meaning, "Do it again!"

Another naturalist aboard one of the whale watching boats told us they jump because they're happy. Makes me understand where the phrase "having a whale of a time" must come from.

Monday, February 11, 2008

More Whale Watching at Maui

Today we ventured upon a couple of whales performing very near to shore. I took a couple more videos. On one of our expeditions, the naturalist said they think the whales breach (jump out of the water) because they're happy. These two must have been very happy. The trick is to try to time the camera right. There's no warning for when they'll breach.

In one of the next two videos, you'll notice two tales waving at us.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Whale Watching in Maui

This is one of the most fantastic things we have ever done! We can sit on the lanai of our rented condo and watch whales as they swim, play, jump, tap out messages--you name it.

On two days, we have been out on whale watching expeditions early in the morning. Here is video of this morning's great trip. Unfortunately, the whale we saw breach completely out of the water VERTICALLY(!) performed when my camera was out of reach. Hope this You Tube thing works. It's my first attempt.

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