The Pacific Hot Tub.

wedge-tailed shearwater on kauai
As we await the arrival of Laysan albatross, these wedge-tailed shearwater chicks prepare to fledge.

It’s November. And I’m still using the air conditioner.

Earlier this year, when I realized the trade winds had packed their bags and headed to—where? Europe?— I knew it was going to be another hot summer. So, I begged my husband to install one of those not-so-classy-looking window air conditioning units in our tiny guest bedroom.

It didn’t take much begging. And, after researching the most energy efficient ones, he complied. Then, I downloaded an app from the local utility company to gauge our electric use. (Hello! Kaua‘i electricity is spendy, to say the least.)

Because I work from home, the plan was that I could move my writing chair in there and use it in the afternoons when the house got the hottest. And on those especially muggy nights, we could grab our pillows off our own bed and sleep on the guest bed.

I loved it. The husband loved it. The dogs loved it. Yesterday morning. This morning. One night last week.

But yesterday afternoon, the stranger returned and brisk air flowed through the house, billowing curtains and rattling palms outside. These winds swept in from the east/southeast. And they were pleasant. Not the hot breath of the volcano goddess that typically drifts in from that direction, what we call, “Kona winds.”

Tune in to the talk these days about weather in and around the Pacific Ocean, and you’ll hear terms like El Niño, decadal oscillation, and The Blob. Even the New York Times is talking about it.

Throw in climate change, and the result is the Pacific Ocean is heating up. It’s a virtual hot tub out there. And while it’s supposed to bring a wet winter to a drought-ridden California, it’s also revved up the storm cycle in the Pacific. Think Hurricane Patricia and the dozen other hurricanes and tropical storms that popped up here and there throughout the Central Pacific. It was like we were playing Weather Whack-A-Mole for the past six months.

Some consequences aren’t as obvious. Warm water kills coral, home to many fish and invertebrates of the world. In simple terms, not much survives in a hot tub. That’s the reason many species high tail it out of here after they’ve taken care of the business of breeding and reproducing.

Take Humpback whales. They don’t eat when they’re in Hawai‘i. They feed in the cold waters off Alaska, where krill and plankton are abundant. That’s where you’ll find Laysan albatross, as well, foraging for squid and such, clocking tens of thousands of miles in a single breeding season, as they return every few days to weeks to feed their chick.

Laysan albatross.

It’s almost Laysan albatross time.

Historically, during El Niño times, the transition zone between the high productivity of the subarctic gyre dips south into the low productivity subtropical gyre. In plain language, that means shorter foraging flights for Laysan albatross during breeding season. I imagine that would translate to fatter chicks and, perhaps, early fledging.

I wonder, too, how the hot tub will affect their arrival, if at all.

Last year, the first confirmed sighting of Laysan albatross happened on November 5th. Holy cow. That’s now. It’s time. Those winged works of art are in the air, en route. May even be here.

I can hardly wait.

In the mean time, there’s this wedge-tailed shearwater chick.

wedge-tailed shearwater chick
I didn’t find any Laysan albatross when I went surveying today, but I did find this wedge-tailed shearwater chick.




6 Comments Add yours

  1. Sabra Kauka says:

    Weather Whack-a-mole! I got it and I’m still laughing out loud! You are so creative and funny. I read your blog every time.


    1. Kim says:

      Phew! So glad someone got that reference! And I adore you for reading my musings.


  2. Diane Pike says:

    Here’s hoping several of the Laysan Albatross find their way to Molokai. We have been planting a lot of Naupaka at the Mokio Land Trust in hopes of providing them a sheltered nesting area. It would be amazing to have these magnificent creatures grace our island.


    1. Kim says:

      That would be awesome. What a wonderful, safe place that would be for them, too.


  3. suegranzella says:

    One of the things that so strikes me about your blog is that you’re able to write about nature and science and the environment and social trends in a very conversational, enjoyable, comfortable way. I rarely read nonfiction which is so carried by the VOICE of the writer. I love the blend of your oh-so-readable voice with the topics of your writing. Delicious. Thank you.


    1. Kim says:

      You’re so kind, Sue, to read and comment and be my champion;-) Interesting what you say about voice, too, because I’ve always kinda felt like I didn’t have one. Or that I was always trying to break out of the staid, journalistic voice that I felt I had. So, thank you.


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