Posts Tagged ‘fish’

I did this tattoo yesterday. This person wanted a chest and shoulder piece that would tie into the Polynesian artwork that he already had, effectively completing the upper left side quadrant of his body. He chose symbols to represent his own story as well as those reflecting his family.

After more research I have decided that utilizing the Fibonacchi sequence (FS) in Ana’ole should not be confined to just the spirals of waves and/or plant structures. The intent behind using FS is to represent the mana (spiritual energy) in a given piece. I feel that the representation of mana is lacking in traditional Polynesian tattoo and because it is such an integral part of the Polynesian culture that it shouldn’t be left out. By using FS to represent mana makes sense because it is that which is used by nature to create anything from flowers, to shells to our own bodies. FS exists everywhere in nature; it is tangible but most importantly it is real and based in reality (at least the reality that we find ourselves in).

By definition mana is, as I have stated, spiritual energy. In Polynesian cultures, it exists in everything. Mana can also be acquired through birthright as well as warfare and some Poly cultures even believe that the level of mana one possesses represents that person’s power, authority and magical ability, for lack of a better word. However, the definition of the word also states that mana can also mean a branch or certain type of fern. Branches and ferns are also represented in FS, so in a sense, the concept of utilizing FS to represent mana is somewhat intrinsic to the definition of the word! I like it when things dovetail so nicely.

This brings me to my solution of how best to insert mana into a tattoo and not limiting it to the spirals of waves and plants as I mentioned above. What I realized is that it needed to have more of a presence, almost at the top of the hierarchy of the design itself. I did not want it to be the focal point but rather to work in unison with the piece and not compete with it. I also had to consider that natural representations of mana/FS are subtle, not overt; if you look you will find it, if you don’t, you simply appreciate the beauty of the object. So I came to the conclusion that the FS needed to be literal yet downplayed, blending in more than standing out, which is why my solution was to insert actual FS into the elements of the design.

Because the FS can go on forever, I decided to only utilize the sequence up to the number 21 but concentrated mainly on the sequence up to 5 and 8, since 8 divided by 5 is what gives the Golden Mean ratio of 1.6. I have also omitted 0 since it would be difficult to represent something artistically, which is, by definition, nothing.

FS follows a specific integer sequence, beginning with 0 and 1. Each subsequent number is a sum of the previous two numbers. The sequence goes like this:


By adding the first two numbers, 0 and 1 you get 1. So, adding 1 and 1 would give you 2. Adding 2 and 1 would give you 3. 3 and 2 would give you 5 and so on. That in a nutshell is the definition of the FS. This sequence is inherent in the Golden Mean if you begin to divide the numbers in this fashion 2/1, 3/2, 5/3, 8/5. The latter giving the GM ratio of 1.6.

Ok, it’s early, I get it, and math sucks, I get that too. I just wanted to explain myself so people could better understand my intent. Here is a link for those masochists who have nothing better to do on a Sunday:

Back to the tattoo.

If you look carefully at certain symbols within the tattoo itself, you will see the FS in such things as veins on leaves, spots on fish and plants, set into the niho mano (sharks teeth) etc. This is my solution, subtle yet apparent if you are looking for it.

Beginning from with his chest, starting from the bottom of his pec, moving upward we see a fishnet. This is because he likes to fish. Above that there are 2 negative space points moving toward each other which are the calm part of the ocean with the breaking waves directly above. Throwing a net into rough water is not the ideal way to catch fish and does little to extend the life of your net. To the right, next to his armpit are 3 Ti leaves with FS inserted into the leaf veins. Moving downward along the same paka, underneath the name “jodie” are 3 niho mano which are part of the island chain represented in sharks teeth, that continue toward the top of his shoulder (there are 8 islands in all). These also have FS inserted in the design. Up past the Ti leaves are a honeycomb pattern that is a nod to the Tahitian symbol for the sun setting on the water. It is a traditional symbol with a twist. Above that is the sun, and if you follow the paka toward his sternum you will see 3 aloe leaves that represent healing, again infused with FS. Above the sun is the rest of the island chain and above that, the paka includes a wave, a flower and the moon. Next to his collarbone are 5 stars for each member of his immediate family.

The shoulder cap, beginning from the top and moving downward you will see a branch of bamboo with 5 leaves. Under that are more 5 more niho mano again representing his family. Below that paka is a fish, an ulua to be exact with the FS apparent in its spots. Below that is a turtle shell, for protection. The triangles and big island I did not do.

I have set aside writing my follow up to The Son of Fire (Design of the Snow Goddess) to produce a reference book complete with definitions and illustrations of Ana’ole Polynesian Tattoo. It will go into detail about FS, the Golden Mean and how they pertain to Ana’ole. There will be over 100 symbols and definitions (currently I have completed 30 drawings). I hope to have it published in before wintertime comes. It is mainly to help me explain my style but will also be available online. This is hoping that the production and post-production go over without a hitch!

Thanks for reading my blog, now go and enjoy the rest of your day! Aloha nui!

This gentleman came to me wanting a surreal interpretation of Hemingway’s classic, The Old Man and the Sea. His inspiration came from watching a cartoon adaptation of the book and also the artwork of Jay Alder which consists of exaggerated foreshortening and perspective. The fish, being the main focus of both the tattoo and the book, I chose to interpret as dragon or serpent-like, not only to convey ferocity but the wisdom of the creature as it is regarded in the Orient.

The Old Man (which is hard to see from this angle) I chose to depict as a sense of movement rather than a detailed personage, mainly because we had decided to make him secondary in the hierarchy of the design, but also because it worked with the surrealism of the piece. He is shown only as a  Gumby-esque stick figure with elongated limbs and a straw hat covering his face. He is in the process of tightening his line just as the fish takes the hook, which is reflected in the slack in his line juxtaposed by the tension in the line coming from the fishes mouth. I chose to color him in red as this color signifies good fortune (among other things) in Asian culture. His boat is a nod to cubism, my intention was to not be able to tell if it is moving forward or backward.

The sea depicts the duality of calmness in the background toward the land mass and turbulence in the foreground (I like balance!).

My client wanted to have the fish ‘lit-up’ as they tend to do when they are hooked. Keeping with the surrealism, I decided to leave out any sense of depth (as shading would convey a sense of realism) and instead used colors from opposite ends of the spectrum to give ‘life’ to the fish. When you put long wave length colors (reds, oranges) together with short wave length colors (blues, purples) it causes the eye to ‘vibrate’ as it struggles to focus in on one wavelength while being overpowered by the other, opposing color. In the print medium it is wise to avoid such devices, but on the skin it can certainly add some vibrancy (literally!). The fish itself was meant to be both fluid and imposing which I tried to convey by mixing curves with straight lines. Its eyes are not bloodshot; what you see is blood coming through the white ink.

The land mass is another somewhat featureless object intended to give depth but is unidentifiable as a specific place. We also decided to leave the sky out (which was going to be either red or orange) because it would have detracted from the power of the fish and also because it would have suggested a ‘time’ to the piece which we felt wasn’t important.

I am loving my new machine (Dragonfly) because it is so easy to get along with and is a pleasure to use. What I am finding out is that I may need another one as switching between 3 needles and tubes is a pain!

needles used:


ink used:

alla prima
joe cappbianco

Anna likes Barracuda Bay (not its real name) because it has a tiny beach. When I say tiny I’m talking about a patch of sand no bigger than a kiddie swimming pool. Such are the hardships of living on the youngest of all the Hawaiian Islands; proper beaches are few and far between. Needless to say, she had hounded me all week to go back so that she could get in (via the tiny beach) to try out her new underwater camera housing, again. So we loaded up the truck and headed back down to BB.

This time I was better prepared for my blue water excursion, electing to bring my smaller blue water gun (with which I have a love/hate relationship with) instead of my reef gun, because the former has more range and power. Instead of spoons I brought a half dozen, ten inch long bait fish which are irresistible to anything with lips (including myself) that I planned on tossing out, ala the spoons, to lure the bigger game. Known as opelu, these bait fish are commonly named mackerel shad, and if they weren’t so damned hard to shoot, I would hunt them exclusively because they’re so tasty!

The conditions were much nicer today than they were last week. There was no noticeable swell, and despite a rising tide and a full moon, there weren’t any freakish tides or otherwise petulant surges to add to the mix. The sun was out, there was no wind and standing on the rocky outcropping that overlooked my entry point, with my polarized sunglasses on, I could see clearly to the bottom. Things were looking good.

I suited up and jumped in, letting the gentle action of the tides carry me out past the inshore reef toward the sandy bottom of the outside, toward blue water.

One BIG secret to any sort of diving (whether it be blue water or reef) and landing fish is to not act like a human. Meaning, don’t splash around and hyperventilate into your snorkel. Don’t point your gun at everything that swims by and absolutely DO NOT swim with cadence. Fish don’t swim with any sort of measured rhythm, they dart here and there, sometimes they stop and nibble on something, or they hide under a rock. Never do they just swim about in a straight line. If you plan on landing any fish, neither should you. Let the current take you a bit. Kick one leg gently and drift, then kick with the other leg. Stop and just float. Then, maybe for a short burst, kick with both feet, before you stop and drift along with the current. This way the fish won’t get (as) spooked when they see you and may even swim closer to investigate. It takes a very long time to uncover such knowledge, believe me, I used to swim like a motorboat and often wondered why the fish were never around.

Today the haze layer that plagued me last week was minimal. Floating at the surface I could see all the way down to the bottom, some sixty feet below. Sixty feet is considered shallow for blue water, but it is blue water nonetheless. You know when you’re in blue water, because like I had mentioned earlier, something changes in the clarity of the water and you suddenly feel as if you are hovering in the center of an enormous blue room. The viz was so good that I could see striations in the sand from the action of the ocean; row after row of perfectly uniformed lines like a mountain range as seen from space. I yanked the first opelu from my float and tossed it into the briny sea.

It floated for a moment at the surface before it began to descend, slowly toward the bottom. This fish was a teaser. Generally, unless there are fish within the immediate vicinity, the first fish will go unnoticed. When using fish or spoons to draw in bigger fish it is a good idea to also bring along a bag of palu, or chum. This is generally made by chopping up fish, squid or octopus or utilizing the innards of cleaned fish, mixing with cans of mackerel and flour and making a kind of ‘dough’ that you can form into softball sized globules and toss out with your spoons or whole fish. I didn’t have time to make palu today, so I went without. My bad.

The teaser fish settled to the bottom where it languished in the sand as if it were sleeping off a hard night of high seas living. A couple of triggerfish swam by and tried to wake him up but got nowhere, so began to nibble on the sleeping fishes face. Since most fish don’t sleep in the daytime, these triggerfish were obviously haters. But this is all a good thing. Feeding fish attract other fish, thus the Byzantine complexities of the inner workings of fishdom are revealed. I used this opportunity to toss out another opelu.

An uku, or blue-green snapper passes by underneath me as I tossed the fish out. As the opelu began to sink I remembered that I brought along Anna’s small underwater camera and decided to try and snap some shots. Pulling it from my float I immediately questioned my reasoning for bringing the gadget, as my gloves were ill equipped to push the fantastically small power button. For what seemed like forever I wrestled with the camera until it finally came on. When I looked back into the water, I wish that I had done so sooner.

The two opelu were lolling back and forth in the sand, like two drunken college roomies, surrounded by a horde of trigger fish intent on, I don’t know what, when gliding into view, a few feet off the bottom, like a pair of brunette Victorian-era wigs, came a pair of octopus. Octopus (I am refraining from using the word octopi, because this ain’t no nature show, dammit!) do not swim with their arms, nor do they swim like a spider would walk, nor do they swim like a fish. Octopus, when not being chased, curl their legs, flatten their bodies, and just sort of glide through the water like a flying carpet. It is a very regal and purposeful sight to see and if you squint just right you can imagine a flying wig.

Wasting no time, the pair of octopi (crap!) hovered over the baitfish before enveloping them (each ‘pus taking its own fish) and then proceeded to swim away with my bait. I tried to get a picture of it all but since they were fifty feet below me, and the camera had a max depth of twenty feet, by the time I reached twenty-five feet down I realized that I could damage the camera and so managed to only snap a picture of one of my fins, I think.

After twenty minutes, nothing of note had materialized and I was out of opelu. I tried to dive on the uku but it since it was still a baby– maybe fifteen inches long, maybe three pounds– I decided to head into the shore and see if I could find some action. On my way in I saw the only barracuda of the day, which was the same punk that had laughed at me last week and he must have recognized my displeasure at being ridiculed because the moment our eyes met he sped off into the deep.

Patrolling the inshore zone I came across a nice sized lai (queenfish) that I took a late shot on and hit. Lai are an interesting fish because of how they were utilized for the purpose of fishing, back in the day as well as now.

A member of the Jack family, lai are a top water fish meaning that they spend a majority of their lives near the surface of the water where they eat tiny fish fry and other tasty bits of whatever it is that they like to eat. They are silver in color and it is this shiny and resilient skin that makes them ideal for creating fishing lures with. Did I also mention that they are very delicious, best eaten raw? Well, they are.

Anyway, once the skin is removed from the fish and dried in the sun it becomes not unlike cowhide, that is, leather-like. Cutting the skin into strips and securing it to a hook is how the old timers would use the lai skin. Cast and retrieve fishing (colloquially referred to as ‘whipping’) is a popular style among shore fishers and given its strength and (if cut correctly) tendency to move through the water like a slender silver fish, lai skin makes perfect use of normally discarded part of the fish. Lai skin was also used in the very first trolling lures, which were often made from resin and allowed insetting flashy bits into the lure to add realism. Big fish are no different than little fish, mynah birds and yard sale enthusiasts in that if something is shiny, it’s going home.

Now before any PETA-philes  (goes together like peanut butter and chocolate lab) lambast me for killing Sea Kittens (no, I can’t make stuff like this up: )know this: I only take what I can consume, and I do not over fish. And, I make sure to eat all of the Sea Kittens that I catch. With a generous helping of baby seal jelly.

The lai struggled for a moment before I took out my knife and ended its futile attempts at trying to evade me. Lai are also tricky because they have four semi-poisonous spines right in front of their dorsal fin that leave a painful welt whenever they break the skin (another reason to not let it flap around on your stringer like a whirling dervish).

Looking back to shore I saw Anna waving to let me know that it was time to head in. I secured my catch and began swimming back, visions of raw Sea Kitten dipped in wasabi and shoyu making my stomach grumble.

As I was pulling my fins off while trying to maintain my balance as the tide pushes me back and forth over jagged rocks filled with sea urchins, I decide that we should give Barracuda Bay a rest for a while. And maybe wait for the kittens to turn into cats.

Part 1

Things were better when I was a kid.

Life wasn’t something that required a credit card, a password or any device with an acronymic name to enjoy. I wasn’t counting calories, concerned about keeping my sugar or sodium intake in check and certainly didn’t give a damn about my abs.

We had 3 channels on TV, the radio played rock, oldies and disco and you had 2 types of blue jeans to choose from: Levi’s or Wranglers. One made you a rad, the other made people gag with a spoon. The two fast food joints were known for their differences; one flame broiled their patties, the other fried them, and you chose were to dine according to your mood.

But those were luxuries found only on the mainland. In the islands, you could go to Tex’s Drive In, Dick’s Coffee Shop or Cafe 100, distinguished only by the quality of their gravy. You wore the pants that were handed down to you or bought on sale at Woolworth’s.

At night on the black and white, you could watch Star Trek re-runs if the rabbit ears were cooperating, followed by Happy Days and Lavern and Shirley. Your choice of footwear was simple: Rubber boots, rubber slippers or cowboy boots; farmer, beach bum, hillbilly.

Life was simple: Get up, eat a loco moco at Cafe 100, go to Itsu’s to buy bait, beer and hotdogs, head down to 4 mile to fish all day while my dad drank with his friends on the side of the road.

How much better could life be?

Star Wars? Oh yeah, I saw that in the movie theater. Ditto, Raider’s of the Lost Ark. Video games? That was when the ONLY place that kids wanted to be was the arcade, and it cost money. The look on your parent’s face as they forked over another fiver whose fate it was to be fed mercilessly into machines that returned the investment with sound effects and perspiration, priceless.

It was a simpler time.

There weren’t as many people, traffic was something that occurred in places like New York or LA, fantastical places unto themselves. People were friendly to one another; they didn’t exchange suspicious looks. No one worried about being mugged, tagged, flash mobbed or twittered about. There wasn’t H5N1, mad cow, GMO crops or Ethanol. No one had to worry about someone stealing their PIN or piggy-backing on their WLAN.

However, what existed in abundance was aloha.

Aloha: Hello, goodbye, love. Those were the good old days. So, where did it all go?

Recently, my wife Anna and I went to visit my mom in Idaho. She was born and raised on the Big Island back in the plantation days, which according to her, was a time that was less glamorous than it sounds. Back then, they were lucky if they got a new potato sack dress for Christmas. They ate what  grew in the garden or was raised in a pen. They watched the knobs on the tube radio.

Life was simple, perhaps too simple.

My mother saw living in Hawi as a trap, a dead end. She wanted more for herself and her son, so as soon as she could she packed me up and headed to the mainland. Although I returned to my home to spend summers with my father and the rest of my family over the next decade, my mother never looked back. She was done.

But I digress.

Despite the fact that the only racism that I have ever experienced in my life occurred in Idaho (granted that was before Idaho underwent a ‘cultural revolution’, yikes), upon returning with Anna, I encountered some of friendly folks that I had met in years.

Genuinely friendly, people.

Cashiers making minimum wage who were eager to engage in conversation over the health benefits of quinoa. Strangers on the street or in the malls that were smiling at one another. Waiters who really seemed to care if our french fries were crispy enough for us, who were willing to stand over the fryer themselves to ensure that we received the deep-fried, chipped spuds of our liking. It was both refreshing and alarming. Refreshing because I was beginning to think that geniality was dead, alarming because I live in the aloha state, which has become, over time, bereft of its intrinsic commodity.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t fantasize about living in Celebration, nor am I the type of person who enjoys engaging door-to-door solicitors of any kind, in any sort of debate. I enjoy my space as much as the next guy or girl. I prefer to sit in the least crowded section of a restaurant, I turn the chat function off on Facebook.

Am I guilty of killing aloha? Did the ideal somehow arrive at its current moribund state because of something that I or my generation had done? Now that we carry, at any given time, an average of three devices on our person that can not only receive radio, TV and streaming data, but help us find our way, do our taxes and make phone calls, shouldn’t we all be happier? Perhaps a better question would be: Where has our happiness gone?

It’s been almost two years to the day since I’ve become a vegetarian (of the fish eating variety). My reasons for omitting meat from my diet were many: health, not knowing exactly where the meat came from, how it was processed, gradually losing a taste for it, etc. One of the reasons had to do with the fact that I didn’t trust how other people prepared their food. Often when we have get-togethers, people bring foods that they’ve made at home, and knowing how some people chose to live made me question just how those people would regard cleanliness/hygiene, cross contamination and the like when it came to cooking, say, chicken.

Living in a tropical climate means that such things would be prudent to consider, if you have a sensitive stomach such as I do. Mayonnaise is a common ingredient to add to many dishes (macaroni salad, hamburgers, sandwiches to name a few) and can also contribute to an upset stomach if not handled correctly. Chicken is another. Many people prepare their chicken in the same pan that they use to keep the chicken once it is cooked. Without washing in between. Not good.

Now don’t get me wrong, when I say ‘sensitive stomach’ I mean that I react to anything put into it immediately. And if said food is tainted or unclean in anyway, I’ll know pretty quick. Being a vegetarian has seemed to have created an equilibrium of flora in my digestive system which is much more sensitive now than it was when I ate meat.

To say that I enjoy this newly found gastrointestinal zen would be an understatement. I do whatever I can to maintain this level of balance. Occasionally I might consume something questionable (duck prosciutto surreptitiously placed in a cold asparagus soup) without too much concern, but generally I’m pretty good about it.

Back to my point.

It seems that all of the pissing and moaning that I have been doing for the past week, has not in fact been due to this work out but to something that I ate last Sunday before this particular recovery week workout began. While at a friends house having a fish fry, I ate something that I probably shouldn’t have, but considering that it was a vegetable, I didn’t think that it would have an ill effect on me. The culprit is seems, was a rather innocuous vegetable known as Hawaiian Spinach. but is commonly known as Malabar Spinach.  It looks like a miniature and very stout, romaine lettuce leaf crossed with a brussel sprout.
By the time we sat down to eat, the sun was setting and the ambient light was that duotone grey blue that makes scrutinizing things so difficult. So as I chowed down on fish brains, eyes and tails (did I mention that I had a sensitive stomach?) I began eating a nice side salad composed of fresh greens including the aforementioned Hawaiian Spinach. How would I know then that this little leaf was the reason for almost a week of intestinal unease and stomach cramping? Why the veggie and not the fish, you ask? Well, it goes back to why I don’t trust how food is prepared by other people.

The salad came from a neighbor of my friend who had picked all the greens from his garden. Everything looked on the up and up until I spotted a spinach leaf in the haze of the late afternoon light that caught my eye. Upon further examination I found that what I thought to be dark variegated lines on the leaf was actually dirt. Dirt that had not been rinsed off prior to preparation. Naturally I noticed this after I had almost finished my salad, having consumed some dozen or so leaves (which also have the texture of waterlogged fiberglass).

Now I know that dirt isn’t bad and that eating it won’t kill a person, but I also know from having a garden of my own that not washing produce correctly can result in the inadvertent consumption of any number of unpleasant substances.
Let’s see…fertilizer, such as chicken crap (salmonella), slug slime, which has been known on the Big Island to possibly contain Rat Lungworm ( Angiostrongylus cantonensis) from the slugs eating rat poop, then there’s lizard and mice crap, dryer lint, butterfly pee and the list goes on.

I tested my theory Friday night by drinking an elixir for curing any and all stomach ailments, which is five swigs of Tabasco in a shot of water. This works for almost anything, but consuming too much may kill off the flora in your stomach, making matters worse. An hour after drinking my Tabasco shot, my stomach cramps disappeared. Magic.

Now it wasn’t like I was incapacitated or sitting on the toilet for a week straight, I just had cramping in my stomach that I thought was related to my workout but was not. Since this week has been a recovery week and much less strenuous as far as the exercises were concerned, I was a bit alarmed that my abdominal regions would hurt after doing such an easy workout. So now you know. I’m not a whining baby. I just ate some bad spinach.

I wasn’t the only one that felt a little ‘off’ after eating that salad, by the way.

Next week we start a entirely new series of workouts, yay.

No wonder Popeye was so cantankerous.

Building your core is akin to watching your savings account balance go up as it accrues interest. It’s a glacially unhurried process, that at times, makes you wonder if someone hasn’t hacked into your bank account and is slowly siphoning off all the hard work that your cash money has been performing.
So it is with great aches and pains that I have been building my core, with the hope that one day it will have a bigger balance than what I started with. Now I’m not saying that money is everything, because it’s not. Money is simply a tool. Like a hammer or turkey baster. Meant to make the act of pounding nails or covering a big breasted bird in its own juices, a little less challenging.
My core is in there somewhere, racking up interest and one day it will be bulging with so much of itself that I can retire and live off of all the work that I am doing now.
Hopefully that day will happen sooner rather than later; before I die or withdraw all my savings, go to Vegas and bet it all on black.

Moving on.

Finally a different routine! Kind of. This week we’ll be doing CCB for the entire 6 days. This is apparently a recovery week, where we do less strenuous exercises, concentrating more on form and slow repetition as opposed to the all out sweatfest which we just finished.

I like this workout because although the exercises aren’t going to have me collapsing on the floor, it still makes me sweat. Also the people on the DVD are a little different so that is a bonus. I’m understanding that this whole Insanity thing is just the same 12 routines, mixed-up and stretched out in order to make them seem different when they are not. I hope that when his recovery week is over, that the new series of DVDs will offer something different. If not I can live with it, but dammit, sometimes too much of a good thing is, well, not very good!

Moving on.

Really feeling it now in everything that I do. It’s hard to imagine but it is like I move with my core now, instead of just swinging my appendages, willy nilly. Glad to have the day off, tomorrow is another hell day.

Thank the powers that be someone had the where with all to put a recovery day smack in the middle of these workouts. They really help to minimize the impact that jumping around like a lunatic can do on a body. Although the CR itself contains a lot of stretching, the back bone of this exercise is yoga. Yes, that’s right. Upward dog, child’s pose, twisting side poses and all. It’s still much easier than doing the regular exercises, but this will still make you sweat. It helped to work the kink out of my neck which was an after effect of doing countless ‘moving push-ups’ yesterday.

Moving on.

The old saying goes, “Once you enter the water, you’re entering the food chain”, or something along those lines. Surfers throw this axiom around as if they hope to obviate it through repetition. But then again when you’re floating along on a chip of foam in the ocean, splashing around like wounded prey, accepting the truth is far more advantageous than denying it. At least when something tugs on your leg, or bumps your board you’ll know that you have a few extra seconds to make your peace with the world before sliding down the gullet of some prehistoric predator.

For a freediver things are a little different.

Where as a surfer enters the water as potential prey, the spearfisher enters the water at the top of the food chain. And barring any freakish circumstance or stupidity on the divers part, that position can be guaranteed to never change.

Or so we hope.

Often, before I even dip a fin into the water, I have already determined which type of fish to target. I find that this discipline helps me to remain focused on a goal rather than just shooting at whatever comes along. Being a proponent of sustaining the resource, I also find that having predetermined targets also means that I harvest only what I need and nothing else.

On this particular day I had targeted the mamo (sergeant major), a plankton eating damselfish, which are great in soup or fried in a pan. As the largest of specimens are roughly the size of an open hand, they are slightly challenging to catch especially when using a spear gun as opposed to a pole spear. I often target these abundant fish because of the fact that shooting at such a small target helps to improve my aim. The conditions were near perfect that day, with no surge or swell, a light off shore breeze, with the tide on the rise.

Mamo aren’t a fish that are effected by the phases of the moon as much as other species and can be found congregating around boulders, coral heads, and caves at all times of the day. During spawning season they are literally swarming everywhere and make easy targets.

But sometimes, regardless of the amount of fish in the water, landing one, even the smallest one, can be a herculean task. That is why spearfishermen have coined the phrase, “Better lucky than good” which pretty much sums up the sport in four short words. Although possessing technical skill is a bonus, it doesn’t always guarantee results.

After triple checking my gear I slid quietly into the water and slowly swam out to one of several target areas where I knew that I could find some mamo. As I drifted with the feeble current I saw a dozen or so of the silvery green fish hovering about in mid water over the coral crusted hulk of what used to be a cargo ship’s motor. Mamo, like most fish, tend to congregate in areas where they can quickly hide from predators and an old engine makes a perfect shelter.

After several shallow dives I had managed to spear three fish before the school got wise and took off for a better hiding place. When targeting specific fish, it’s good to know where these hiding places are so that you can plan your attack accordingly. If done correctly a dive can consist of merely swimming between these places and harvesting fish.

I did just that, and in a little over an hour I had ten fish on my stringer which was more than enough. I always think that it’s good to work for your fish rather than not, and that day I felt that I had done a decent amount of work.

I began to swim back to where I had entered the water, which was sheltered boat landing, popular with locals and tourists alike for its easy water access and lack of depth. Children were playing and splashing around as usual and I was momentarily lost in the tranquility of it all when I felt a tug on my float line.

When spearing fish, unless you are using a pole spear, the typical set up is to have a float attached by a float line to your gun. This way if you shoot a big fish you can let go of your gun and the fish will fight the float, everything being attached. Having a longer float line, sometimes up to a hundred or more feet in lenght, ensures that when you attach your harvested fish to your float, that the whole rig can be kept at a distance from your body just incase anything swims up to investigate. A stringer full of dead and dying fish is a magnet to almost everything out in the sea.

My first thought then, was that it was a shark. Getting taxed by ‘The Man’ is something that happens often and is all part of the sport. Letting a shark have a fish or two is merely paying a toll. Protection money in a way.  Besides, you shouldn’t really try to punish an apex predator for being lazy. Especially those with razor sharp teeth and a brain no bigger than a nickel.

I turned, expecting to see the tenacious critter pulling at my string of fish, but instead found a pair of eyes gazing back at me. They weren’t the soulless yet penetrating eyes of a shark, but rather the dark expressive eyes of a juvenile monk seal. I instantly recognized its expression. It was hungry.

The seal plucked a fish from my stringer like it was picking an apple from a tree. It then swam away in a curtain of bubbles.

At that point I considered myself lucky. I got the chance to see one of the rarest most endangered species in the world, in its own habitat, and it only cost me a fish. I turned and resumed swimming back in. Then I felt another tug.

I turn to see my new friend, flippers wrapped around another one of my fish like it was holding a tuna sandwich. It was as if it where smiling with its eyes. Not so much a friendly smile as a smug one. It yanked the fish from my stringer and began swimming in circles around my float.

At this point my float is still roughly forty feet away from me but judging by the size, this seal looks to be in the neighborhood of two hundred pounds, maybe five feet long. A full grown adult can weigh upwards of six hundred pounds and over eight feet in length. Monk seals by nature are very reclusive and avoid human contact. They can also be quite aggressive. All of these thoughts are running through my mind as I watch it grab another fish from my stringer.

I look in toward the landing and see the kids playing and a tourist getting into the water with a pink rash guard and yellow fins. It wouldn’t be a good idea to lead the seal into the shallows around all of the people, so I decide to stand my ground and see what happens.

I turn back just in time to see the seal swimming directly toward me, still holding the fish. Several yards before it reaches me, it dives down and glides underneath me turning over on its back as it cruises by. Its eyes betrayed what was really going on in the creature’s head. I could tell that it was thinking of how it was going to get the rest of my fish from me. I can’t explain it other than it was simply a feeling that I had peering into those shiny black orbs.

It made me feel like a clod, an alien, something not worthy of being in the ocean, the way it seemed to fly through the water like a giant bird. I suddenly felt the awkwardness of the snorkel in my mouth; the way the air rushing out next to my ear sounded like a dull hack saw on glass. My mask also seemed too restrictive and I noticed the imperfections in the lenses, like I was peering out of a fish bowl. My long fins seemed like cheap imitations–toys at the ends of my feet. I was embarrassed.

My heart rate increased because I knew now that there was some species on species competition going on that I couldn’t avoid even if I wanted to. So I did the first thing that came into my mind, which the last thing I should have done. But being a competitive creature myself I wanted to protect what was mine, so I began pulling my float in closer. Some part of my lizard brain figured that maybe the seal would understand that by my actions I was intending to assert that the fish were mine and to leave them alone.

The seal, unfortunately, had other ideas.

As I pulled my float closer the seal swam off toward my right and disappeared from view. Thinking that my ploy had worked, I pulled the float up to within arms length.

Float line, as the name implies, is essentially a very thick monofilament line encased in a buoyant rubber sheath. It is meant to float on the surface of the water and not sink. It is also very strong, my particular line had a breaking point of over five hundred pounds of pressure.

The problem is that when you pull in fifty feet of float line, unless you are winding it into a spool (which I wasn’t), it collects on the surface of the water in a big tangled mess. As soon as I realized that perhaps I had not made such a good decision, the seal was back.

It was in my face, my float was the only barrier between myself and the spunky pinniped. It was so close that I could see the decay on its dog-like teeth. The thought of getting bitten by its disease-ridden mouth horrified me. It grabbed another one of my fish in its mouth and bit it in two. Then it started on another. As it was feeding and somewhat distracted, I snatched my pole spear from my float. A pole spear is just what is sounds like: a long thin pole, made of graphite, fiberglass or aluminum with a three-pronged spear head attached at one end and a rubber sling, which propels the device through the water, at the other end. My intention was to poke the seal with the spear to try and get it to move away. This tactic works well with sharks, which only require a slight bump on the nose or body to get them to back off. I would have gladly traded this seal for three sharks any day.

I turned the spear around so that the loop of rubber was facing the seal, then thought twice about the seal getting caught up in the loop and so turned the pointed end of the spear at the creature. It probably sensed something because it immediately began swimming toward me. All I could do was hold the spear out in front of me as it closed the short distance between us.

As the head of the spear touched its body, the seal began to swim toward me with more conviction. Its rubbery skin seemed to envelope the spearhead without causing the seal any discomfort whatsoever. In fact, the contact seemed to energize the seal and it began pushing toward me to such a degree that my spear began to bow. It began snapping its jaws in a playful manner. By the time we were face to face I had dropped my spear and had nothing but my hands to defend myself. It began swimming in tight loops right in front of me, tangling itself in the float line. This seemed to make it angry and it began splashing around and bumping into me. I had no choice but to use my hands to keep it from getting us both tangled up. I pushed at it, kicked at it, at one point I remember punching it, but my actions were futile.

I heard someone yelling for their kids to get out of the water and I saw that I had a small audience watching from the safety of dock. The seal was becoming more entangled and was growing more and more frantic. I didn’t know what else to do so I grabbed my spear gun from my float and tried to push myself away from the seal with the butt of the gun. It seemed that the more I tried to distance myself, the more the seal would try and close the gap.

At this point I began to lose my cool. I was scared for my life and scared that this thing would drag me to the depths of hell while nibbling on my dying carcass. So I hit it with the butt of my gun several times using all the strength that I could muster. The first few blows to the body seemed to get its attention. Then I held the butt of the gun under its chin and pushed it backwards. It didn’t like that one bit!

It was if the seal had finally got the message. It looked at me as if to say that it was hurt that I didn’t want to play with it anymore. I jabbed it one more time to make sure it understood my intentions. Then it untangled itself with no effort, grabbed another fish from my float and disappeared into the blue.

When I climbed out of the water there I had four fish left out of ten. Actually four and a half, because there was a head still attached to the stringer. People were asking me what had happened and that it looked like I needed help. I told them that there was nothing anyone could have done and it was good that no one tried to jump in because it probably would have made matters worse.

I drove home contemplating my position on the food chain and decided that I would be lucky to be at the top.

Several weeks later I drove by the landing to check out the water and saw a guy from the DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources) sitting on a rock looking out at the sea. Feeling somewhat unnerved at having assaulted an endangered animal I decided to tell him of my encounter. I opened with the sentence, “A few weeks ago I was diving out here and I had an encounter with a monk seal.”

His eyes lit up and he replied, “Was it the juvenile female? Did she have a yellow tag on her flipper?”

I remembered that it did.

“Great!” He said, “That’s why I’m here. We’ve been looking for her.”

I proceeded to tell him about the entire experience including the punching and kicking and the part about using the butt of my gun. He laughed.

“Oh, you did the right thing. You did what you had to do; it’s not a big deal. As a man of the ocean, you know what you should and shouldn’t do. You protected yourself, that’s what I would have told you to do anyway.”

His words made me feel better. At least I wouldn’t be prosecuted.

He chuckled and said, “But you had it easy.”


“Well we’ve received several phone calls in the past few months of that seal harassing people. One person was trying to climb out of the water and the seal swam up behind them, grabbed them with its flippers and pulled them back in. They were tourists from like, Kentucky or something. They don’t have seals out there. So they were pretty shaken up.

Another lady was trying to feed it part of her sandwich while she was in the water and it pulled her down by her feet. It was her own stupid fault trying to feed it anyway.”

He then went on to tell me that the seal had been raised on the other side of the island on a small public beach. Not wanting to disturb the mother, the state constructed a rope barrier around the mother and her pup to cordon off the area. This didn’t stop people from stepping over it to feed the seal and take pictures with it. He said that this early contact with people was why this particular seal had no fear of humans. He also told me that they have tried on three separate occasions to relocate the seal, deploying helicopters and a transfer boat complete with all personnel at the cost of over 100K per incident. But the seal always found its way back, even from other islands!

The last I heard about the seal, they were attempting to take it to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands some 1500 miles away. Hopefully she’ll find whatever it is that she’s looking for out there.