09 October 2009

A Happy Birthday

And a busy birthday. It started out in good fashion. First thing in the morning, I went out with the Smithsonian group on a dive to The Grotto to do some fish collection using quinaldine sulfate (the anesthetic) - there was a delay in the shipment of their preferred chemical, called rotenone. I found it a little difficult to use the stuff at depth (around 95 feet). It only really works on the smallest of fish. Anything larger than a coin only gets "sleepy" from it - I chased a groggy Longsnout Butterflyfish far too long trying to get it. Many of the small fish are quite difficult to get as well. Quinaldine works best when the fish stay in it for some time, so it's easiest to squirt it into holes where they can't escape. The problem then is that they're very difficult to get out. You can do so by swooshing water around, but it's only marginally effective.

After the dive the researchers got back to work in the lab, and I spent some time working on my PhD applications. And after lunch we geared up to go on a second collection outing. This time we were headed to Highland's Bay - an area on the Southeast side of the island. It's an interesting area for all of the odd coral formations, but the water is always very green and murky (probably because of the prevailing ocean current and extensive seagrass beds). Four of us were snorkeling with Hawaiian Slings (a type of spear), and three were diving with quinaldine again. I opted to dive. And, again, it was somewhat "under-productive.". I chased a sleepy damselfish for a while (it's just so hard to let them go when you get so close!) and didn't turn up more than a handful of anything else. It was alright for me - I just like being involved and getting to dive - but I think the researchers were disappointed in what we were able to get. They all kept worrying that the rotenone shipment wasn't going to turn up and that their visit might be a waste as a result. Finally though, we learned when we returned from the outing, it arrived.

There wasn't enough daylight left to use it then (and they had lots of work to do in the lab), so they didn't want to go back out. Ben (one of the SFS faculty) and I, however, decided to go out to Admiral's Aquarium (one of our usual snorkel sites) and fish with the spears for a little while. Admiral's is a shallow patch reef with very clear water and almost never any sharks, so I felt comfortable with the spear there. It can be quite fun to do, but sometimes pretty brutal. I hoped that my kills were swift, but sadly I know some were not. The inner turmoil and reservations I have over taking part in any of this project probably doesn't come across fully in these posts. I've never really killed things before and I can't help but have strong emotions about doing it. There are (at least) two ways of thinking about it. One is from an ecosystem-wide perspective, that we are doing very little harm to each of the species as a whole and essentially none to the environment. The other is on a individual level. Each fish that dies because of us, is a life that has ended, some of which (especially those that are speared) suffered considerably. I try to think of things in the first way, but I inevitably I come back to the suffering inflicted on individual fish.

Our catch from the evening outing to Admiral's was quite good for the short time we were there. I managed to get a Peacock Flounder, a Blue Chromis, a Yellowtail Snapper, a Schoolmaster, a Mahogany Snapper, a Sergeant Major, a Goatfish, and a Yellowhead Wrasse.

Peacock Flounder

Blue Chromis

Yellowtail Snapper


Mahogany Snapper

Sergeant Major

Goatfish (poor little guy suffered good bit)

Yellowhead Wrasse

And the rare Brettfish (suffering was minimal).

That evening, of course, I got my favorite carrot cake (and quickly hid the leftovers in the staff refrigerator). And finished the long (but very enjoyable) day off down at the dock watching bioluminescent sea-worms with Jessee and some of the other staff.

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