WAILUKU - A 200-pound sea turtle was rescued near Kmart, and reef fish were spotted swimming in a pond at a Kahului parking lot, days after the Japan tsunami hit Maui earlier this month.
The surprising finds served as reminders that, in addition to disrupting the daily life of Maui's human residents, wildlife and marine animals were impacted by the natural phenomenon. State aquatic biologist Skippy Hau said he made a check of Maui shorelines after the surge and found dead tilapia and aholehole but "nothing really disturbing."
"I (thought) more fish would be coming up," he said.
Aquatic biologist Skippy Hau of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (from left) works with Dennis O’Donnell; DLNR wildlife technician Stephanie Franklin; and DLNR habitat- and fish-monitoring technician Linda Castro to return a stranded sea turtle to the ocean. O’Donnell reported the turtle swimming in a Kmart-area drainage canal three days after the March 11 tsunami. The animal was released at Kanaha Beach Park.
LEO MILLAN photo
A sea turtle weighing about 200 pounds swims in a Kmart-area drainage canal March 14. An aquatic biologist believes the animal crawled to the canal after being washed ashore by the March 11 tsunami caused by the Japan earthquake. Officials returned the turtle to the ocean.
LINDA CASTRO photo
Pauline Fiene’s dog, Cheddar, sniffs out a dead juvenile butterfly fish under debris near a Kihei shoreline more than a week after the tsunami apparently washed the fish ashore.
PAULINE FIENE photo
Hau helped rescue the 200-pound adult female sea turtle that was found in a drainage canal near the Kahului Kmart on March 14.
"She was healthy," he said.
He said a passing teenager noticed the displaced turtle and alerted a nearby windsurf shop, which reported the find to authorities. The turtle was crawling in the canal, probably after being washed ashore March 11, Hau said.
He and other wildlife officials rescued the turtle and released it at Kanaha Beach Park.
It was the third turtle that people have found washed inland by the wave, Hau said. The other two also were found in the Kanaha area and rescued, he said.
Elsewhere in Kahului, Haiku resident Glenn Wirth found aholehole, a saltwater fish, swimming in a puddle at the American Savings Bank parking lot near the Maui Mall on March 17 - nearly a week after the tsunami.
"They were still really frisky and alive," said Wirth, who captured the fish and returned them to the ocean.
He said the first time he saw the pond it was about 20 feet wide and 6 inches deep. When he returned the next day, he said it had shrunk to about 3 feet across but still had some fish in it.
"There was one big tilapia fish and two little fish," he said
He then took those fish to the freshwater canal near the harbor.
The tsunami hit the Hawaiian Islands on March 11, after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake shook northeastern Japan. In Kahului the water went as far as the Kahului Post Office parking lot, and damage was reported at Lahaina and Maalaea harbors.
Hau said it was to be expected that a strong tsunami would wash marine life ashore, with water at first receding from the shoreline, then rushing back in a "long wave" that carries debris and sea creatures with it.
"(It) will just carry you," he said.
Some aquatic life died as a result of being washed ashore.
Kihei beachgoer Pauline Fiene said she has noticed many dead fish and other sea life along the coastline from Kalama Park to just south of Kalepolepo Park.
"Some of the fish were 140 yards inland," she said in an e-mail.
The day after the tsunami, she said she and her dog, Cheddar, went running on the beach between the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall on Uluniu Road and Kalepolepo Park, and saw dozens of dead collector urchins on the beach, along with brittle stars and a few fish. Later she saw dead fish and sea animals amid the debris and mud near the Village by the Sea condominium.
"To have the ocean throw things out seems so unnatural and dramatic," she wrote.
But while feeling "excited" to see the effects of a powerful phenomenon, she said she was also sad she couldn't save the animals by returning them to the water before they died.
So far Fiene and Cheddar have found 24 species of fish and other marine life, adding up to "hundreds of animals total."
Hau said all the dead marine life may not have resulted from the tsunami. He said some South Maui freshwater fish may have died when recent rains and floods washed them through drainage canals into the ocean. The tsunami then may have deposited their remains back onshore.
"It's kind of hard to blame it on one thing," Hau said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews. com.