A Sea of Turtles

A Sea of
by Molly Hagemann
& Nicholas Griffith
ABOVE | Skull of a Hawksbill Sea
Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata),
a critically endangered species
found in tropical coral reefs,
including those around Hawai‘i.
Skeletal specimens such as this
allow researchers to examine
changes in turtle populations
and track those patterns in
relation to natural or humaninduced changes in the
environment. Understanding
how and why turtle populations
change help to create effective
conservation plans.
George Balazs, zoologist for the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Turtle
Research Program, knows a thing or two about sea
turtles. For over three decades,
he’s dedicated his life to
studying those found in and
around the Hawaiian Islands.
Over that span of time, he’s
seen considerable fluctations
in population size, habitat,
range, and behavior. He’s been
a steady champion for these
majestic animals through the
good times and the bad. Since
the congressional passing of
the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973, he has
been a constant source of public en­gagement and
activism. Having accumulated a fair number of
biological samples along the way, Balazs has graced
Bishop Museum with the lion’s share of his specimens.
He has donated over one hundred new specimens
to the vertebrate zoology collection. Freshly assembled
archival boxes now teem with the smooth shells and
skeletons of sea turtles. The bones of flippers jut out
among the skulls of loggerheads, the sharp beaks
of hawksbills threatening to bite at prying fingers.
Invaluable research material, their presence will
serve scientists for decades to come in the areas of
evolutionary biology and ecology.
Although Hawai‘i is home to some five species
of sea turtles, the Hawaiian green sea turtle (Chelonia
mydas) is perhaps the most well known. Frequently
seen just offshore, the honu has become an indelible
symbol of Hawai‘i. Through conservation initiatives
such as Sea Life Park’s turtle breeding colony,
Balazs continues to work towards restoring healthy,
sustainable pop­ulations of sea turtles from Hawai‘i
Island to Midway. Being a driving force for sea turtle
conservation has also put him in the position of
accepting the remains of those that have perished.
A somber reminder of the many threats facing sea
turtles worldwide, Balazs has used these to collect
vital data for informed wildlife management.
In addition to providing over one hundred
rep­resentative specimens for the olive ridley, logger­
head, hawksbill, leatherback, and Hawaiian green
sea turtles, Balazs has contributed two freezers.
The Vertebrate Zoology staff has been hard at work
creating custom made, archival containers to house
the various shapes and sizes of Balazs’ specimens.
Now that these are safely cataloged, we are happy to
announce their availability to researchers worldwide!
Show your support for the Museum with a customized honu
(turtle)-design license plate through the Divison of Motor
Vehicles (DMV). Apply at your Satellite City Hall location and
$20 is donated to Bishop Museum. For more information go
on line to www1.honolulu.gov/csd/vehicle/mvdecal.htm.
Ka ‘Elele Winter 2015
BELOW | Honu, turtle, sleeping
on a North Shore beach. Photo:
James Caycedo
Jack R andall
An Enduring Legacy
In the history of exploration and discovery of
coral-reef fishes, one name stands out above all
others: John Ernst Randall. Known to his friends and
colleagues simply as “Jack,” he is literally a living legend
in the field of ichthyology.
The list of awards and accolades he has received
in recognition of his work is extensive (to list them
all would more than fill this page). He has authored
over 860 scientific books and articles (more than any
other ichthyologist in history), and has discovered and
named nearly 700 valid species of coral-reef fishes—
more than anyone else in history!
Jack was successful as a scientist and as an
explorer because he was the right person at the right
time. He had a precious combination of intelligence
and passion that makes for a great scientist and the
start of his career coincided with the invention of
SCUBA in the 1950s. He was among the first scientists
to adopt this then-new technology for exploring coral
reefs. Upon completion of his Ph.D. at the University
of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, he had access to Hawai‘i’s coral
reefs and the gateway to the unexplored Indo-Pacific
region, home to the richest marine biodiversity on
Earth. He spent a few years working in Florida and the
Caribbean before he returned to Hawai‘i and began his
career at Bishop Museum in the mid 1960s.
Half a century later, Jack continues to describe new
species of fishes and publish important scientific
works as ichthyologist Emeritus at Bishop Museum.
I first encountered Jack when I was a teenage
“fish nerd” living in Palau. After a diving accident
forced me to return to Hawai‘i, Jack offered me a
job at Bishop Museum, and served as my academic
mentor as I completed my Ph.D. at the University
of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. I have had the honor and
privilege of joining Jack on many exciting expeditions
throughout the Pacific, and I doubt I will ever meet
his equal as an underwater explorer.
Once, on an expedition to the Solomon Islands,
when I was in my early 20s and Jack was in his late
60s, I made the foolish mistake of trying to match
Jack’s standard practice of making 6–7 dives per day.
After two days, I was exhausted and needed to take a
day off just to recover. Jack kept that pace up for the
entire two-week trip (I limited myself to three dives
per day).
Jack continues to describe new species, and
even went for a dive off Waikīkī to celebrate his 90 th
birthday earlier this year. I have been helping him
complete his memoires, Fish ‘n’ Ships, which will be
published in early 2015.
As I read through the draft, I am continuously
amazed by the incredible life he has led—a life of
adventure, science, and exploration that few others
will ever have the opportunity to emulate. Words
cannot express how proud I am to have worked with
him for so many years, or how proud all of us here at
Bishop Museum are that he has dedicated his life to
building our incredible fish collection. And I’m verymuch looking forward to joining him for another dive
on his 91st birthday!
Richard L. Pyle
ABOVE | Dr. Gordon Tribble
(left), Jack Randall (center) and
Richard Pyle (right) celebrate
Jack’s 90 th birthday with a dive
off Waikīkī. Photo: Sandra
Richey. Inset: Randall with
his double-hose regulator in
the 1960s.
BELOW | Randall has taken
thousands of underwater
photographs of coral-reef
fishes during his long and
productive career.
Ka ‘Elele Winter 2015