Friday, March 13, 2009

Musings: Speculations

The air was almost frosty when Koko and I went out walking, bundled up, or at least me, on wet streets under a rapidly waning moon and a sky that held some promise of clearing.

I ran into my neighbor Andy and we got to talking, in response to a post he’d read on Andy Parx’s blog, about why the wild pig population seems to have increased. My neighbor found it hard to believe Andy’s report that a farmer claimed some 500 pigs had been released in the Kealia area, although Andy's speculation that access to hunting areas has been closed off seemed more reasonable.

Then my neighbor Andy offered some speculation of his own: Kauai now has fewer feral dogs and cats that otherwise would be feeding on piglets and chicks, respectively, and thus holding the population down.

Who knows?

Meanwhile, speculation over the cause of the Niihau and Kalapaki fish and whale kills continues, with The Garden Island weighing in today in its usual inimitable fashion.

First, there was the photo caption that had the date of the lanternfish kill at Kalapaki wrong, while making a reference to three dead humpback whale calves, a new number that was not elaborated on in the story.

The story had its own problems, with writer Coco Zickos allowing Ilei Beniamina to make a strong assertion about the cause — the rodenticide application at Lehua — without actually contacting the Fish and Wildlife Service, which did the aerial drop, to see if there’s anything to her claim:

Beniamina said Thursday she considers the decision to drop two applications of poison on Lehua during January was seasonably unfavorable and believes the massive fish kill on Ni‘ihau and Lehua, including a young whale found on Kaua‘i, in the following weeks was the result of rogue pellets being swept out to sea by wind and rain.

As I’ve reported previously:

Tissue samples taken during and immediately after the application of rodenticide pellets on Lehua showed no sign of the poison in fish caught off the island’s south side, and on-site monitoring done after rains “found no detectable movement” of the pellets on land, according to Chris Swenson of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

So if the pellets aren’t moving on land, they could not have been blown or washed into the sea. Furthermore, when asked if the rodenticide could be linked to the fish or whale deaths, our state aquatic biologist, Don Heacock, told me flat out: “No. I don’t think it has anything to with rodenticide.”

Why? For starters, he said, “there’s no way it could get into a baby whale. They’re only drinking milk and the mamas don’t feed here.”

And given the wind direction and currents from Lehua, if the rodenticide was the culprit, the dead fish would have piled up at the north end of Niihau, right at the channel, Heacock said. Instead, they were concentrated at the southeast tip of the island. “How would they have gotten there?” he asked.

The Garden Island also includes a comment from Keith Robinson, whose family owns Niihau and opposed the rodenticide application:

Robinson added that there are reportedly about a dozen monk seals who used to regularly visit the island and have recently “gone missing,” while others appear “extremely sick.”

Heacock said that when he and a vet visited the island in early February, the monk seals all appeared “completely healthy and not lethargic.” He also discounted the likelihood that reef fish poisoned by any cause would impact the seals.

“The vast majority of seals don’t feed on reef fish, but in waters that are 150 to 600 feet deep, although a few young ones do feed occasionally on the reef,” he said. At the depth most seals feed, any poison would be so dilute it would not affect the fish there, he said.

Now one way to find out just what happened to the fish would be to do the $15,000 National Water Quality Assessment on the samples that remain from the fish kill, as Heacock recommended. That protocol looks at all kinds of contaminants, he said, including 150 pesticides, metals, petrochemicals, hydrocarbons and other substances.

But until state and federal agencies kick down the dough to test, we won't be able to rule those things out or in. Perhaps the Robinsons, who enjoy a chummy relationship with the Navy, could ask them chip in for the testing — unless, of course, the Navy is worried that its own activities, which were under way when the fish started dying, are to blame.


Anonymous said...

ah yes, the baby whale milk thing. good point. that does seem like a strong indicator

plus, those same pellets have been used b4 on other islands to kill rats. just saying, its not the first time its been used (to the extent thats worth considering)

Anonymous said...

> ...unless, of course, the Navy is worried that its own activities, which were under way when the fish started dying, are to blame. <

In the long, sorry history of the Navy's use and abuse of the Hawaiian Islands, there are no footnotes of worry. No concern, no contrition, no regret.

Just decades of dismissals, denials and brush-offs -- wrapped in the monumental arrogance that anything they do is nobody's damn business but their own.

Anonymous said...

i trust if it turns out to be some guy fishing w/ bleach we'll similarly throw alotta harsh words at em

Joan Conrow said...

The big difference is that If it turns out to be some guy fishing with bleach -- which isn't likely, as the fish did not show burns consistent with chlorine exposure -- he could be tried, fined or jailed. But if it's the navy....