Field Log: March 2019 Maui project


Tuesday, March 26, 2019 – 14:36

Cascadia Research’s first Hawai’i field project of 2019 was based off Maui, from March 11-17, 2019. This project was the start of the 20th consecutive year of this study on Hawaiian odontocetes, although this effort was a bit different from most, as we were spending a lot of time also working with humpback whales (in conjunction with a film crew) primarily in the shallow waters of the Au Au channel. While the humpback focus may be surprising to long-term followers of our Hawai’i research, the first funding for the Hawai’i research effort (in 2000) was actually to work with humpback whales, a study examining their sub-surface and night time behavior. It was this early funding which allowed us to start the research on several species of odontocetes. The shallow waters of this area host only four species of odontocetes, and we were able to encounter all four during the project.

Endangered False Killer Whales off Lāna‘i

The crew for this project included Brittany Guenther, Jordan Lerma and Robin Baird, with help from Lee James, Lynn Padilla, David Reichert and Trent Ellis. For this project we used the Aloha Kai, provided by Ultimate Whalewatch.

By far the highlight of the week was an encounter with Cluster 4 of the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population of false killer whales. We were able to get identification photos of about 20-25 individuals, collected four biopsy samples for studies of genetics, aging, and hormone chemistry, collected three breath samples for a study of the respiratory microbiome, and obtained some beautiful GoPro and Drone footage of the group

false killer whale, Pseudorca, Hawaii, Lanai, Maui
Pseudorca crassidens

False killer whales from Cluster 4 of the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019mar15_d37_bdg_0421_cr-2.jpg
Pseudorca crassidens

Fast moving false killer whales!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019mar15_d37_bdg_0465_cr-3.jpg
Pseudorca crassidens
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019mar15_d37_bdg_2320_cr_0-4.jpg
Pseudorca crassidens

False killer whales passing the cliffs off southwest Lāna‘i

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019mar15_jkl_1164_cr-5.jpg
Pseudorca crassidens with mahimahi

We also witnessed at least three predation events, this one on a mahimahi

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019mar15_d37_bdg_0166_cr-6.jpg
Stenella attenuata

An adult pantropical spotted dolphin shows the complex spotting patterns of this species. One of the few species we do not have a Hawai’i photo-identification catalog of (we have catalogs of 13 species from Hawai’i), although we are collecting photos for the eventual creation of a catalog, as there are a lot of questions about stock boundaries and fisheries interactions with this species in Hawaiian waters.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019mar15_jkl_0023_cr-7.jpg
Tursiops truncatus

As well as false killer whales, we also encountered two groups of bottlenose dolphins and were able to obtain identification photos to add to our photo-ID catalog for this species. There is a small resident population of bottlenose dolphins in the Maui Nui area, with some movements between Maui Nui and O’ahu, so these photos will help us better understand the interactions between these two communities.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019mar16_d41_rwb_0077_cr-8.jpg
Megaptera novaeangliae

Spending most of our time off west Maui we had dozens of encounters with humpback whales.This one has a large bite out of it’s flipper, likely from a shark attack.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019mar12_rwb_0120_cr-9.jpg
Phalaropus fulicarius

We also photograph any unusual birds we see while on the project – the most interesting sighting of the trip was a Red Phalarope, a winter visitor to Hawai’i. For more information on birds we encounter check out our seabird page and the “Birds of the Hawaiian Islands” accounts at the Bishop Museum.

Photos on this page were taken under NMFS Permit No. 20605. Contact Robin Baird (rwbaird “at” cascadiaresearch “dot” org) for more information

Field Log: November 2018 Hawai’i Island project

Sunday, November 18, 2018 – 11:52

Cascadia Research will be undertaking a field project off the island of Hawai‘i from November 4-17, 2018, our second major project off the island this year. This project is funded by a grant from the Tides Foundation and by a grant from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

The main objective of the project is to find and learn more about the endangered main Hawaiian Islands insular population of false killer whales, to help estimate abundance, obtain information on body condition, and understand seasonal and inter-annual variation in movement patterns. Instead of being based out of Honokōhau Harbor, as we have been for most of our Hawai‘i Island projects (and all our previous November field efforts, see map below), we are planning on working out of Kawaihae Harbor (weather permitting), allowing us to work closer to a high density area for Cluster 2, one of the four main social clusters from the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population. During the second week of our effort will also be working with Michael Moore from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Randy Wells and Aaron Barleycorn from the Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program to try to deploy fin-mount satellite tags on several species of small odontocetes (bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, melon-headed whales) with the new TADpole tagging system, funded by a grant from Dolphin Quest

For the first time during any of our Hawai‘i field efforts, we are also planning to have a land-based team, led by David Anderson, that will be using a 30x spotting scope and 16x binoculars to try to spot false killer whales and other species. With a potential detection range out to about 10 km from shore, the land-based observers will hopefully increase our encounter rates, allowing us to obtain more information on this population than would typically be possible, given the low density and often rough sea conditions in the area.

As we do during all of our field projects, we will also be obtaining photos from most species of odontocetes we encounter, to contribute to ongoing studies of residency patterns and social organization and to estimate population sizes, and collecting biopsy samples for hormone chemistry, toxicology, and genetic studies. Check out our field update page if you want to see what we encountered and accomplished during our last November (2015) Hawai‘i Island project.

The research team includes Colin Cornforth, Jordan Lerma, Brittany Guenther, David Anderson, Robin Baird and a number of volunteers.

End of project update

November 17th was our last day on the water for this project. Over the last two weeks the boat-based team covered 1,585 km, had 37 encounters of nine species of odontocetes (plus saw several humpbacks), took 34,763 photos (and a lot of video), and collected nine genetic samples (from six species) and four breath samples. The land-based team had sightings every day they were out, including short-finned pilot whales, melon-headed whales, and spinner, spotted, and bottlenose dolphins. Overall a very successful trip. On our last day we encountered our third group of false killer whales for the trip, a good way to end the project!

Pseudorca crassidens – Cluster 3

A false killer whale from Cluster 3, seen November 17, 2018. During this encounter we were able to obtain identification photos of all the individuals, obtained one biopsy sample for genetics and hormone chemistry, and collected another breath sample for examination of the respiratory microbiome.

Pseudorca crassidens – sub-adult male, Cluster 3

This individual is HIPc301, a very distinctive sub-adult male from Cluster 3, seen November 17, 2018

Steno bredanensis

We also encountered our second group of rough-toothed dolphins for the trip, including this individual with an unusual stripe along the side.

Mesoplodon densirostris

An adult male Blainville’s beaked whale surfacing towards the camera. The two erupted teeth of an adult male are visible, the one on the whale’s left (right side of photo) has some stalked barnacles at the base, while the one on the whale’s right (left side of photo) appears to be partially broken off. We were able to get good identification photos of all the whales in this group, and will be comparing them to our photo-ID catalog for this species. There is a small resident population of Blainville’s beaked whales off this island, so we expect most of the individuals to be in the catalog. Check out our web page for this species for more information.

Mesoplodon densirostris

A mother and calf Blainville’s beaked whale, showing the white oval scars caused by cookie-cutter shark bites. The calf is likely older than six months, based on the number and healing state of the scars.

Mesoplodon densirostris

A view from behind of three Blainville’s beaked whales, showing the rostrum just after the whale breaks the surface (left), an adult female showing the typical peaked back of this species (middle), and a calf (right).

November 14th update

Peponocephala electra

Over the last few days we’ve had encounters with several species of odontocetes (and a few distant sightings of humpback whales), and the highlight was an encounter with the Kohala resident population of melon-headed whales. This is a small population, estimated at about 450 individuals, that has a small home range of the NW side of Hawai’i Island. We were able to get good photos of about 75 individuals (out of an estimated group size of ~150), and collected one skin sample for genetics. The individual above has a mostly-healed wound from a cookie-cutter shark bite on the side of it’s head.

Peponocephala electra

November 8th update

Pseudorca crassidens with mahimahi ( Coryphaena hippurus)

We encountered false killer whales again on November 8th, a spread out group of about seven individuals. This was a very productive encounter – we were able to ID most of the individuals, collected two biopsy samples, and witnessed two predation events on mahimahi.

Drone footage of false killer whales attacking a mahi mahi. Note the cameo by the Oceanic Whitetip Shark!

As well the photogrammetry from the drone (measuring individuals to determine length and body condition), we are also collecting breath samples, to examine the respiratory microbiome. These samples will be analyzed by Linda Rhodes at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. Our NMFS research permit allows for flying drones (UAVs) over animals at a height of 100′, with brief descents to 50′ for photogrammetry, and to 6′ for breath sampling. The photo above shows the drone after it passed through the plume from the exhalation from two false killer whales.

November 7th update

On November 7th we encountered our highest priority species for the trip, the false killer whale. There was a single individual encountered, heading into rough sea conditions, but we were able to get good ID photos of the individual and should be able to match it to our catalog. 

Pseudorca crassidens

A false killer whale off north Kona, November 7, 2018.

Globicephala macrorhynchus

On November 6th we also encountered a group of short-finned pilot whales, including the individual above, and were able to collect one breath sample for analysis of the respiratory microbiome, as well as photos for our photo-ID catalog of this species.

Tursiops truncatus

We’ve also encountered a couple of groups of bottlenose dolphins and obtained photos for our photo-ID catalogs.

November 4th update

Rhincodon typus

The highlight (for the boat-based crew) of our first day of the project was a juvenile whale shark! We contribute photos of whale sharks to researchers studying this species.While the land-based crew had observations of both bottlenose and spinner dolphins, the boat-based crew had a sighting of a large group of pantropical spotted dolphins, as well as a brief sighting of a pair of dwarf sperm whales. 

Stenella attenuata

A pair of pantropical spotted dolphins surfacing near the boat, November 4, 2018.

This map shows our vessel tracklines (yellow) for previous field projects during the month of November.

Pseudorca crassidens

Our primary goal for this project is to work with the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population of false killer whales.

Photos on this page were taken under NMFS Permit No. 20605. Contact Robin Baird (rwbaird “at” cascadiaresearch “dot” org) for more information

Field Log: February/March 2018 Lāna‘i field project

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 – 11:29

We will be undertaking a 14-day field project off Lāna‘i starting February 20, 2018, funded through a NOAA Species Recovery Grant to the State of Hawai‘i. This will be our first Hawai‘i field effort of 2018, and the start of our 19th year of work in Hawai‘i! This will be our seventh year of working off Maui Nui since first working here in 2000, following on from a very successful field project off Lāna‘i in March 2017. We are based out of Manele Bay for the project, to allow quick access to the deeper water west of Lāna‘i. We have a number of goals for our field work, but the primary one is to learn more about false killer whales, through the deployment of LIMPET satellite tags, photo-identification, and collection of biopsy samples for genetics, hormone chemistry and toxicology. We also have funding for tags from Dolphin Quest, and hope to deploy tags on one or more of short-finned pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, or other species we encounter. As usual, we’ll be working with all species of odontocetes we encounter, trying to obtain photos for photo-identification catalogs, and we may also collect biopsy samples for studies of genetics, toxicology, and hormone chemistry of other species.

The research crew for this project will include Daniel Webster, Colin Cornforth and Robin Baird, all from Cascadia, Jordan Lerma from Uheheu, Brittany Guenther, and a number of volunteers. We want to thank Pūlama Lāna‘i for logistical support.

If you want some background information on our work in Hawai‘i we published a paper on our first 13 years of surveys and a pdf is available here

End of project update

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Martin Frye

March 6th was our last day on the water. Over the 14 days we 27 encounters of six species of odontocetes, as well as two encounters with sei whales, and many sightings of humpback whales. We took just over 20,000 photos, over half of them of false killer whales, always a good thing! With tags out on two different social groups of false killer whales (Cluster 1 and the rarely-seen Cluster 4), we more than met our goals for the project, and are looking forward to tracking the movements of these groups over the next weeks and months.

False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) predating on a scrawled filefish (Aluterus scriptus). Photo (c) Lynn A. Padilla

We also documented a number of predation events of false killer whales feeding on mahimahi, ono, and in the photo above a scrawled filefish.

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Jordan K. Lerma

False killer whale leaping, March 4, 2018.

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Lynn A. Padilla

Several of the fish the false killer whales were trying to catch were hiding under or in marine debris, in this case inside a plastic crate. This false killer whale is nudging the crate to try to dislodge the fish.

March 3rd update

False killer whales – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Jordan K. Lerma

Today we had another encounter with our priority species, false killer whales, this time with the rarely-seen Cluster 4 from the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population. The well-marked individual in this photo is HIPc122 in our photo-ID catalog. This individual was first documented during one of our field projects in November 2000, over 17 years ago, and was last seen during our March 2017 Lāna‘i project. Although the conditions were poor, we were able to get good ID photos of four individuals, and deployed on LIMPET satellite tag – only the third time that individuals from this group have been tagged.

False killer whales – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Daniel L. Webster

We also encountered a very large group (~650 individuals) of melon-headed whales south of Lāna‘i, only the second time we’ve encountered this species in the Maui Nui area (the first was in our December 2012 project). This group is likely from the Hawaiian Islands population, individuals of which spend most of their time in deep water moving among the islands and into offshore waters. For more information on melon-headed whales in Hawaiian waters check out our web page for this species.

Sei whale – Balaenoptera borealis – Photo (c) Jordan K. Lerma

On March 1st we had our second encounter of a sei whale for the trip (and our second encounter ever of sei whales in Hawai‘i in our 18 years of working here!). This individual was off the west side of Lāna‘i, and while we weren’t able to get close enough to deploy a satellite tag, we were able to get a good view of the head (with only a single head ridge, unlike the similar appearing Bryde’s whale).

Sei whale – Balaenoptera borealis – Photo (c) Jordan K. Lerma

Another photo of the sei whale from March 1st, showing the very low surfacing profile of this species.

February 25th update

Today we encountered our highest priority species for the trip, false killer whales! We were able to get identification photos of about 18 individuals, and have matched some of the photos to Cluster 1 from the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population. As well as the photos, we were able to deploy two LIMPET satellite tags, to track the movements of this group over the next couple of months. . 

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Christopher F. Ferrante

An adult male false killer whale – adult males are both larger than adult females and have a more protruding rostrum, visible in this individual. 

Two false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) in the back and one common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) in the foreground. Photo (c) Nicholas M. Boin

A bottlenose dolphin (foreground) following false killer whales (background) – we’ve seen associations between these two species before, and in this case the bottlenose dolphin was following the false killer whales when they were feeding on an unidentified fish, presumably trying to pick up scraps.

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Jordan K. Lerma

A false killer whale off Maui, February 26, 2018. 

February 23rd update

The first few days of the project have been quite productive, with encounters with bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, spinner dolphins, short-finned pilot whales, and the highlight of the trip so far, two sei whales. This was our first-ever sighting of sei whales in our work in Hawaiian waters, and the third species of baleen whale we’ve seen in Hawai‘i. 

Pantropical spotted dolphins – Stenella attenuata – Photo (c) Colin J. Cornforth

We’ve had several encounters with pantropical spotted dolphins over the last few days, but our encounter on February 22nd was quite productive, as we were able to deploy a LIMPET satellite tag on one individual to track their movements. This was only the 2nd spotted dolphin we’ve tagged in the Maui Nui area, and the 8th we’ve tagged in Hawai‘i. LIMPET tags on spotted dolphins last an average of 18 days, so we are hoping this tag will give us at least two weeks of movement information. There are three island-associated populations of pantropical spotted dolphins recognized from Hawaiian waters, one off O‘ahu, one off Maui Nui, and one off Hawai‘i Island. The exact boundaries and ranges of these populations are unknown however, and we are trying to determine these through satellite tagging. 

Short-finned pilot whales – Globicephala macrorhynchus
Photo (c) Brittany D. Guenther

 Short-finned pilot whales off the west side of Lāna‘i, February 21st, 2018. The group we encountered was relatively small (~15 individuals) and we were able to get good ID photos of most of the individuals present. There is a resident population of short-finned pilot whales that regularly uses the area west of the island.

Common bottlenose dolphins – Tursiops truncatus – Photo (c) Daniel L. Webster
Common bottlenose dolphins – Tursiops truncatus – Photo (c) Daniel L. Webster

On Tuesday February 20th we brought the research vessel from Maui to Lāna‘i, and encountered a group of bottlenose dolphins in the channel. We were able to get good ID photos of most of the individuals present, to compare to our photo-ID catalog of this species.

Sei whale – Balaenoptera borealis – Photo (c) Colin J. Cornforth
Sei whale – Balaenoptera borealis – Photo (c) Colin J. Cornforth

We didn’t get any good images of the sei whales we saw on February 21st, but when Colin Cornforth and Shannon Harrison were bringing the research vessel over from Kaua‘i to Maui on February 16th, they encountered three sei whales, so we’ve included images of one of those individuals here. 

Robin Baird and the Cascadia Research Collective field team.
Photo (c) Galen Craddock.

The research vessel we’ll be using for this project, a 24′ Hurricane.

GPS tracks display survey effort in Maui Nui, Feb-March 2018

Our survey effort off Maui Nui in previous years (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2012, 2017).

Photos taken NMFS Scientific Research Permits. All photos are copyrighted and should not be used without permission (contact Robin Baird at rwbaird (at) cascadiaresearch.org for permission).

Updates from our previous field projects can be found here.

Like us on Facebook if you want to receive notices of when information is posted and updates on other Cascadia projects.

Species: False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens)

Field Log: November 2017 O‘ahu field project

Saturday, November 25, 2017 – 09:51We will be undertaking a 19-day field effort off O‘ahu starting November 2nd, funded through a NOAA Species Recovery Grant to the State of Hawai‘i. This will be our first field effort off O‘ahu this year (our last was in October 2016). Our primary goal is to find and learn more about the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population of false killer whales. We will be based out of Ko Olina Marina and primarily working off the Wai‘anae coast. We are hoping to deploy LIMPET satellite tags to track movements, as well as photo-identify individuals and collect biopsy samples for genetics, hormone chemistry and toxicology. As usual, we’ll be working with all species of odontocetes we encounter, trying to obtain photos for our photo-identification catalogs, as well as collect biopsy samples for other studies. The research crew for this project will include Daniel Webster, Kim Wood, Colin Cornforth and Robin Baird, all from Cascadia, as well as a number of volunteers. 

End of project update

Over the 19 days of this project we covered over 1,900 km off the west side of O‘ahu, had 50 encounters with 10 species of odontocetes and took over 52,000 photos, collected six biopsy samples (of two species), and four squid samples, as well as deployed three satellite tags. Overall a very successful project! Our most frequently encountered species were pantropical spotted dolphins (14 sightings) and short-finned pilot whales (11 sightings). Tied for the 3rd spot were rough-toothed dolphins and false killer whales (six sightings each), but in the case of the false killer whales the satellite tag deployed during our first sighting helped us re-locate the group on all the subsequent sightings, so the high number of sightings is a bit misleading. Probably the most unusual sighting of the trip was actually a small group of Cuvier’s beaked whales seen on November 18th south of Honolulu – in our 83 days of effort off O‘ahu over the years (2002, 2003, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017), covering over 9,000 km of search effort, this is our first sighting of Cuvier’s beaked whales off the island!

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Robin Baird

Also on November 18th we had our 6th (and final) sighting of false killer whales for the trip, spread out over a wide area south of Honolulu. We deployed another satellite tag on the group, collected another biopsy sample, and witnessed five different fish chases (four mahimahi and one ono). One of the fish attacks (one a large mahimahi) was one of the longest we’ve witnessed, lasting about 40 minutes, primarily because the fish had a good place to hide, around a floating barrel. Three different individual whales spent time trying to separate the fish from the barrel and were eventually successful, in the process leaping repeated around the barrel trying to hit or grab the mahi. Some additional photos of this encounter below.

False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) with mahimahi. Photo (c) Robin Baird
False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Robin Baird
False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Robin Baird
False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Robin Baird

This individual is an adult male – the rostrum (melon) of older male false killer whales extends farther forward than for adult females. 

November 14th update

Rough-toothed dolphin – Steno bredanensis – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

The winds have picked up quite a bit, and while the tagged false killer whales remain offshore of Wai’anae they are in an area that is too rough to find them (or work with them), so today we searched in shallower waters. We found a large group of short-finned pilot whales, and a group of five rough-toothed dolphins that were associated with the R “FAD”. FAD is short for Fish Aggregation Device – effectively a buoy that is anchored offshore to attract small fish, which attract larger fish, and make them easier for fishermen to find (and presumably catch).  

Rough-toothed dolphin – Steno bredanensis & Fish Aggregation Device (FAD)
Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

While we often hear reports of rough-toothed dolphins or false killer whales associating with FADs, we don’t actually see it that often – today’s group of rough-toothed dolphins were remaining around the FAD, trying to catch fish that were sheltering underneath it. 

FAD with school of scrawled filefish – Aluterus scriptus

A view of the underside of the R FAD, with a school of scrawled filefish (as well as several opelu and a few other fish).  

November 13th update

False killer whales – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

It has been a good few days off Wai’anae, O’ahu, with false killer whales encountered today and for the previous three days. While each day we’ve located the group with the help of the satellite tag we deployed earlier this trip, in each encounter we’ve had some individuals that we’ve not previously encountered this trip. False killer whales, like killer whales, live in very stable long-term groups, but the individuals we’ve encountered have included members of two, or perhaps even three, different social clusters (clusters 1 and 3, for those who are keeping track). This calf, HIPc697 in our photo-ID catalog, was first documented in our October 2016 O’ahu field project. 

False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) with missing dorsal fin
Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

We also encountered perhaps the most distinctive false killer whale in the population, an individual missing it’s dorsal fin. This is an adult female, first documented in 2003, and when first seen she was missing her fin, with scar tissue where the fin was, indicating the fin was lost in a traumatic event, rather than was missing as a congenital problem. This individual, along with several others, was the subject of our second-ever peer-reviewed publication on our Hawai’i work, published in 2005. 

November 10th update

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

Today we had our second encounter with false killer whales for the trip! Our tagged individual had remained offshore of O’ahu in areas that we have been unable to get to, given the sea conditions, but earlier this morning the group passed through the lee off Wai’anae. We were able to catch up to the group using the signals from the tag, but they were traveling quickly and were soon in an area of rough seas again. It was a good encounter nonetheless, and we were able to get identification photos of three individuals. The individual above is HIPc204 in our photo-ID catalog, an adult male first documented in 2005. 

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

A false killer whale traveling at high speed!

Common bottlenose dolphins – Tursiops truncatus – Photo (c) Daniel L. Webser

Today was our 9th day on the water and we also encountered our 9th species of odontocete for the trip, a group of almost 20 bottlenose dolphins. We were able to get good identification photos of all the individuals present for comparison to our photo-ID catalog. 

November 7th update

Pygmy killer whales – Feresa attenuata – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

After six days on the water we’ve encountered eight species of odontocetes, including all four species of Hawaiian blackfish. Today we had two groups of pygmy killer whales, one of the least-known species of delphinids in the world.  One group was 27 km from shore, while the other was just 2.6 km offshore. There is a resident population of pygmy killer whales off the island of O’ahu, and the near-shore group was probably part of the resident population. We’ll be comparing the photos to our photo-identification catalog to determine which individuals were present, and will be interested to see whether the offshore group was part of the resident population, or an unknown group from the open-ocean population.

Pygmy killer whales – Feresa attenuata – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

Pygmy killer whales usually spend their day resting and socializing, often just logging at the surface, like these individuals in the nearshore group. We’ve never seen pygmy killer whales feeding in any of our encounters, so they appear to do all their foraging at night. For more information on pygmy killer whales in Hawai’i check out our web page on this species

Pantropical spotted dolphin – Stenella attenuata – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

We’ve seen pantropical spotted dolphins on five of the six days we’ve been out so far – these are probably the most abundant species of dolphin around the main Hawaiian Islands. There are three insular populations recognized in Hawaiian waters, based on genetic analyses, including one around O’ahu.

Pantropical spotted dolphin – Stenella attenuata – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

When born, pantropical spotted dolphins lack spots, and slowly acquire them with age. This individual is clearly a very old one, and likely an adult male based on size. This photo also nicely shows the starburst patterns that occur as bite wounds from cookie-cutter sharks heal, with the spots along the edges of the bite getting “dragged” inwards as the wounds heal. 

Pantropical spotted dolphins – Stenella attenuata – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

One of our most surprising encounters this trip was actually a group of spinner dolphins (yep, spinner dolphins!), a group of about 75 individuals seen offshore (in 900 m water depth) at 7:46 AM, more than an hour after sunrise. Spinner dolphins typically come into shallow water very early (around sunrise) and spend their days close to shore – in our 18 years of work in Hawai’i we rarely see spinners offshore. Seven of the eight sightings we’ve had in waters deeper than 1,000 m have been small groups (1-3 individuals) in with larger groups of pantropical spotted dolphins, and the eighth sighting offshore was a group heading out into deep water late in the afternoon. The sighting (November 6th) was only three days after the full moon, and it is known that the prey of spinner dolphins (and some other species in Hawai’i) move more offshore during a full moon, so it is likely the dolphins had farther to travel after their night of feeding. 

November 4th update

False killer whales – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

Today we encountered our highest priority species for the trip, a group of false killer whales! The adult female in the photo above is HIPc356 in our photo-ID catalog,  first documented in October 2009 (off O’ahu), seen a number of times since off O’ahu and Hawai’i Island, and last seen in October 2016 (also off O’ahu). The calf in the photo, HIPc697 in our catalog, was first documented with HIPc356 in October 2016 and this is the first time the calf has been seen since it was originally documented. These individuals are most closely associated with Cluster 1 of the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population, but are part of an intermediate group that we have recently recognized (check out the poster by Sabre Mahaffy from the October Halifax marine mammal conference for more information). We were able to deploy a satellite tag on one of the individuals in the group, so are hoping to be able to track the group over the next few months. 

False killer whales – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Chuck A. Babbit

Another photo of HIPc697 – obviously well-fed, with a fat roll behind the head. 

Rough-toothed dolphins – Steno bredanensis – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

We also encountered a large group of rough-toothed dolphins, with a total of about 45 individuals, and were able to get good identification photos of many of the individuals to compare to our photo-ID catalog of this species. For more information on rough-toothed dolphins in Hawai’i check out our web page on that species

Rough-toothed dolphins – Steno bredanensis – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

An unusual view of rough-toothed dolphins, two socializing individuals! 

November 3rd update

Melon-headed whales – Peponocephala electra – Photo (c) Daniel L. Webster

Today we found another uncommon species for O‘ahu, a group of about 450 melon-headed whales. There are two populations of melon-headed whales recognized in Hawaiian waters, a small resident population off Kohala, and a larger population that roams among the Hawaiian Islands and into offshore waters. With such a large group we took several thousand photos to compare to our photo-identification catalog. For more information on melon-headed whales in Hawaiian waters check out our web page for that species.

Melon-headed whales (Peponocephala electra) with a cookie cutter shark bite.
Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

Like other whales and dolphins in Hawai‘i, melon-headed whales are regularly bitten by cookie-cutter sharks, a deep-sea shark that is parasitic, not typically killing their prey. The orange color of the wound visible in this photo are actually cyamid lice (“whale lice”), which often inhabit healing wounds. This bite is in front of the eye, and will likely completely heal. In the photo below, of an older adult melon-headed whale, you can see several scars from healed cookie-cutter shark bites on the head.

Melon-headed whales – Peponocephala electra – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

An older adult melon-headed whale, showing the characteristic white lips of the species as well as the darker facial mask.

Melon-headed whales – Peponocephala electra – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

A mother and infant melon-headed whale, seen in the group November 3rd, 2017.

November 2nd update

Blainville’s beaked whale – Mesoplodon densirostris – Photo (c) Peggy L. Foreman

Our first day on the water was quite productive, with three encounters with short-finned pilot whales, one encounter with pantropical spotted dolphins, and two encounters with one of the less commonly-encountered species in the area, Blainville’s beaked whales! The first group encountered was a group of eight individuals, including one adult male (photo above) and three mother/calf pairs. In the photo above you can see the two erupted teeth of an adult male, with several purple stalked barnacles attached to the base of the teeth. The males use these teeth (referred to as tusks) for fighting with other adult males over access to females. We were able to get good ID photos of at least seven of the individuals, and also deployed a LIMPET satellite tag to study their movements – the first time we’ve tagged this species off O’ahu. 

Blainville’s beaked whales – Mesoplodon densirostris – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

An adult female Blainville’s beaked whale with a calf, estimated at about 6 months of age. The white oval scars on the side of the body are from cookie-cutter shark bites – we use this scarring pattern, in combination with dorsal fin shape and notches, to identify individuals.

Blainville’s beaked whales – Mesoplodon densirostris – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood
Blainville’s beaked whales – Mesoplodon densirostris – Photo (c) Peggy L. Foreman

Our second sighting of Blainville’s beaked whales for the day was in much rougher seas, but we were still able to get good ID photos of all three adult females.  The photo below was taken off O’ahu during our last field project there, in October 2016. We are hoping to have as much success as we did during that effort!

False killer whale, Wedge-tailed shearwater, and mahimahi. Photo (c) Lynn Padilla
Robin Baird and the Cascadia Research Collective field team.
Photo (c) Galen Craddock 

 The research vessel we’ll be using for this project, a 24’ Hurricane.

GPS tracks of effort on the water for November 2017

 This map shows our previous search effort off O‘ahu. We worked off O‘ahu in five previous years – 2002, 2003, 2010, 2015 and 2016. Photos on this page were taken under NMFS ESA/MMPA Permit No. 20605. Please contact Robin Baird (rwbaird (at) cascadiaresearch dot org) for photo use or more information. For updates from our prior field projects check out this page.

Species: False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens)

Field Log: October 2017 Hawai’i Island field project

Thursday, October 12, 2017 – 12:32We will be undertaking a 10-day field effort off Hawai‘i Island starting October 7th, funded through a NOAA Species Recovery Grant to the State of Hawai’i, with addition support from Dolphin Quest. This will be our second field effort off the “big island” this year (our last was in June). Our primary goal is to find and learn more about the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population of false killer whales, and to maximize our chances of finding them we are planning on launching from Kawaihae each day (see map below), rather than our typical Kona work based out of Honokohau Harbor. The area off Kohala is a high density area for false killer whales in Hawai‘i, particularly the poorly-known Cluster 2. We are hoping to deploy LIMPET satellite tags to track movements, as well as photo-identify individuals and collect biopsy samples for genetics, hormone chemistry and toxicology. As usual, we’ll be working with all species of odontocetes we encounter, trying to obtain photos for our photo-identification catalogs, as well as collect biopsy samples for other studies, and are hoping to deploy one or two satellite tags to track movements of some of the other poorly-known species off the island. The research crew for this project will include Daniel Webster, Kim Wood, Colin Cornforth and Robin Baird, all from Cascadia, Brittany Guenther, as well as a number of volunteers. End of project updateWhile only a 10-day project, it was a very productive one. We covered 1,246 km, most of it off north Kona and Kohala, had 21 encounters with 9 species of whales and dolphins, took over 26,000 photos for individual identification and scarring pattern assessment, collected 8 biopsy samples, and deployed 3 satellite tags, the latter on individuals from the rarely-seen and poorly-known Cluster 2 of the endangered main Hawaiian Islands false killer whale population. Overall a very good project, and we are looking forward to tracking the movements of Cluster 2 over the next few months. Our next field project will start November 2nd off Oahu – check the web page for that project after November 2nd! October 15th update

Rough-toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis) feeding on a mahi mahi.
Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

The winds have picked up so we have shifted our operations from Kawaihae harbor to Honokohau harbor, allowing us to work in calmer waters to the south. Our three tagged false killer whales have primarily remained on the windward side of the island, so we are not missing those as we survey in deeper waters to the west. Over the last few days we’ve had sightings of spinner, spotted, and bottlenose dolphins, and today had our first encounter with rough-toothed dolphins of the trip. The individual above has a large mahimahi in the mouth – we saw a group of rough-toothed dolphins feeding on three different mahimahi.  

Rough-toothed dolphin – Steno bredanensis – Photo (c) Chuck Babbit

We’ve seen rough-toothed dolphins, commonly known off Kona as “Steno”, feeding on mahimahi before but they also feed on a lot of smaller fish, including flying fish. The abundance of fish caught in today’s encounter seemed to encourage them to play and socialize, including this individual leaping out the water (see below). 

Rough-toothed dolphin – Steno bredanensis – Photo (c) Chuck Babbit
Wedge-tailed Shearwaters with a hagfish – Photo (c) Chuck Babbit

We also picked up a hagfish that was floating dead at the surface and being fed on by Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. We collected the head of this specimen to send to the Marine Mammal Lab in Seattle for identification, as part of a study on diet of seabirds and marine mammals in Hawai’i. October 12th update

False killer whales – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

Our success on these projects usually comes down to one very productive day, and today was that day. We again encountered false killer whales from Cluster 2 of the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population (the third day in a row!), but this time we encountered a fairly large group (~18 individuals) early in the day (9:44 AM) and were able to stay with them most of the day (4:25 PM) in relatively good conditions. We were able to get good identification photos of about 16 individuals, collected six biopsy samples (all from individuals not previously sampled) and deployed three satellite tags. The last time we had such a productive encounter with this cluster was in 2015, and this is only the second time when individuals from Cluster 2 have been satellite tagged, so we are excited about tracking them over the next few weeks and months. The biopsy samples will be used both for genetics and studies of hormone chemistry, to examine stress and reproductive hormones. 

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Jordan K. Lerma

One of the Cluster 2 false killer whales seen today. 

False killer whales – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

This adult female, HIPc230 in our photo-ID catalog, was first photographed off the island in July 1987, over 30 years ago, by researcher Dan McSweeney. HIPc230 was adult-sized in 1987, so is at least in her 40s and is likely older. She had the injury on her dorsal fin when first encountered in 1987, likely due to an interaction with longline gear, which was fished close to the islands up until the early 1990s. We use images like this to assess evidence of fisheries interactions, and how it varies among the different social clusters and by sex.  

October 11th update

False killer whales – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Colin Cornforth

The last couple of days have been very productive, with sightings of false killer whales and melon-headed whales two days in a row, as well as two different groups of pygmy killer whales. The false killer whales, like the one pictured above, are from Cluster 2 of the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population, our primary target species for this trip. We’ve been able to get good ID photos of a number of individuals, but as of October 11th have not been able to deploy any satellite tags. We are hoping they will stay in the area and we’ll have additional opportunities! 

False killer whales – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Brittany D. Guenther

This well-marked false killer whale is HIPc150 in our catalog, first documented in September 2002 and last seen in 2016. We’ve never seen this individual with a calf and have not been able to collect a biopsy sample to confirm sex, but based on the size appears to be an adult male.  

Pygmy killer whale – Feresa attenuata – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

On October 11th we had two different encounters with one of the rarely and most poorly-known species of delphinid in the world, pygmy killer whales. The photo above shows the belly of one individual witih the white pigmentation around the genital slit and the rounded flippers typical of the species. We were able to get good identification photos of about 30 different individuals in the two groups. There is a resident population of this species around Hawai’i Island and a resident group off Oahu, with some movements between islands, so we are looking forward to matching these photos to our catalog. 

Pygmy killer whale – Feresa attenuata – Photo (c) Robin Baird

The photo above shows the rounded head and white that extends from the lips onto the front of the head, typical of pygmy killer whales. 

Pygmy killer whale – Feresa attenuata – Photo (c) Daniel L. Webster

Pygmy killer whales are very difficult to distinguish from melon-headed whales, another species we saw today (see below), but in good lighting conditions you can see the clear line between the darker dorsal cape and the lighter pigmentation on the side of the body, as well as the frequent paired white linear scars typical for pygmy killer whales. 

Melon-headed whale – Peponocephala electra – Photo (c) Robin Baird

The melon-headed whales we encountered both days were in relatively shallow water (<1,000 m) on the plateau west of Kohala, and are likely members of the Kohala resident population of this species, numbering around 450 individuals. If you are interested in more information on this species in Hawai’i, we have several recent publications (including genetics and range/habitat use) available on our melon-headed whale page

Melon-headed whale – Peponocephala electra – Photo (c) Robin Baird

This photo of a melon-headed whale also shows the dark facial mask and indistinct boundary between the dorsal cape and lighter sides.  

Squid – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

We’ve also collected several squid, now up to four for the trip. These squid are sent to Bill Walker at the Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle for identification, helping us understand the prey that are available to whales and dolphins in Hawaiian waters. 

October 8th update

Short-finned pilot whale and calf – Globicephala macrorhynchus – Photo (c) Robin Baird

In our first three days of effort this trip we’ve covered almost 500 km (480 to be exact) of tracklines off Kohala and north Kona, and surprisingly have only had four sightings of whales or dolphins, well below or average rate. We’ve had reasonably good conditions for much of the time, and yesterday (October 8th) we spent several hours in the ‘Alenuihaha Channel, making it half way between Hawai’i Island and Maui, but have not found our target species, false killer whales. We have had productive encounters however, today with a group of short-finned pilot whales, including the mother and newborn in the photo above, as well as pantropical spotted dolphins and bottlenose dolphins (see below). We’ve also collected two squid specimens, and obtained a few hundred photos of petrels and other seabirds.

Common bottlenose dolphin – Tursiops truncatus – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

A bottlenose dolphin off Kohala, October 8th, 2017 

Pantropical spotted dolphins – Stenella attenuata – Photo (c) Daniel L. Webster

Pantropical spotted dolphins seen October 7th, 2017. 

Pantropical spotted dolphins – Stenella attenuata – Photo (c) Colin Cornforth

 Pantropical spotted dolphins, October 7th, 2017  

False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) with two Wedged-tailed Shearwaters (Puffinus pacificus). Photo (c) Annie M. Gorgone

 Our target species for the trip, a false killer whale (accompanied in this photo by two Wedge-tailed Shearwaters). This photo was taken off O’ahu in October 2016 as part of a field project there. 

Robin Baird and the Cascadia Research Collective field team. Photo (c) Galen Craddock

 The research vessel we’ll be using for this project, a 24’ Hurricane.

GPS tracks of field effort for October, 2017.

 This map shows our previous search effort during the month of October. We’ve worked off the island during the month of October in a number of years, most recently in October 2013. Photos on this page were taken under NMFS ESA/MMPA Permit No. 20605. Please contact Robin Baird (rwbaird (at) cascadiaresearch dot org) for photo use or more information. For updates from our prior field projects check out this page.

Species: False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens)

Field Log: March 2017 Lāna‘i field project

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 – 17:19

We will be undertaking a 21-day field project off Lāna‘i starting March 1, 2017, funded through a grant from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and a NOAA Species Recovery Grant to the State of Hawai‘i. We also thank Pūlama Lāna‘i for logistical support. This will be our first field effort off Lāna‘i since 2012 (see info from our December 2012 project here) and our sixth year of working off Maui Nui since first working here in 2000. We are based out of Manele Bay for the project, to allow quick access to the deeper water west of Lāna‘i. We have a number of goals for our field work, but the primary one is to learn more about false killer whales, through the deployment of LIMPET satellite tags, photo-identification, and collection of biopsy samples for genetics, hormone chemistry and toxicology. We also have funding for tags from a private foundation as well as from Dolphin Quest, and hope to deploy tags on one or more of short-finned pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, or other species we encounter. As usual, we’ll be working with all species of odontocetes we encounter, trying to obtain photos for photo-identification catalogs, and we may also collect biopsy samples for studies of genetics, toxicology, and hormone chemistry of other species.

The research crew for this project will include Daniel Webster, Kim Wood, Elle Walters, Colin Cornforth and Robin Baird, all from Cascadia, and a number of volunteers.

If you want some background information on our work in Hawai‘i we published a paper on our first 13 years of surveys and a pdf is available here

March 21st end of project update

Today was our last day on the water off Lāna‘i. Over the 21 days of the project we covered 2,568 km and encountered 10 species of marine mammals – eight species of odontocetes, humpback whales, and a monk seal. The most frequently encountered species of odontocete were short-finned pilot whales (17 sightings), followed by pantropical spotted dolphins (14), bottlenose dolphins (5), and spinner dolphins (4). We took over 45,000 photos, collected 18 biopsy samples (and one fecal sample), and deployed 11 satellite tags (on four species). Overall it was a very successful project.

Short-finned pilot whales – Globicephala macrorhynchus – Photo © Robin W. Baird

A group of short-finned pilot whales off the southwest coast of Lāna‘i. We encountered 17 groups of pilot whales this trip, more sightings than any other species of odontocete, all in the deeper (>600 m) water to the west and southwest of Lāna‘i .

Our search effort over the 21-day field project.
Collecting a fecal sample from a short-finned pilot whale. These samples are collected to examine diet using genetic techniques. Photo © Kimberly A. Wood
A group of pantropical spotted dolphins off the southwest coast of Lāna‘i. Photo © Robin W. Baird
Humpback whales – Megaptera novaeangliae – Photos © Robin W. Baird
Humpback whales – Megaptera novaeangliae – Photos © Robin W. Baird

While generally we avoid humpback whales during our surveys, we had a competitive group of four individuals circling right off the harbor at Manele Bay, which were difficult to ignore.

March 16th update

Rough-toothed dolphin – Steno bredanensis – Photo (c) Elle M. Walters.

A rough-toothed dolphin off Lāna‘i, the 8th species of odontocete we’ve encountered this trip and only our second encounter with rough-toothed dolphins off Maui Nui. We were able to get identification photos of about a dozen individuals, which we will be comparing to our photo-identification catalog of this species. There are resident populations off Hawai‘i Island and Kaua‘i/Ni‘ihau, so hoping these individuals will match to one of the other islands, giving us a better idea of movements and connectivity among the islands.

These photos show the long sloping beak characteristic of rough-toothed dolphins. Photo (c) Elle M. Walters.

March 13th update

Short-finned pilot whale – Globicephala macrorhynchus – Photo (c) Colin Cornforth.

Another productive day on the water. We were able to deploy two Fastloc GPS satellite tags on short-finned pilot whales, as well as obtain both identification photos and a number of photos of spyhopping pilot whales. We use the spyhopping photos to examine mouthline injuries that may be associated with fisheries interactions. This is an adult male, showing the characteristic flattened head.

Dwarf sperm whale – Kogia sima – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

We also encountered our 6th and 7th species of odontocetes for the trip. We had two encounters with dwarf sperm whales, first a pair of individuals, and then a lone individual. These were only the 2nd and 3rd sightings we’ve had of dwarf sperm whales in the Maui Nui area (our last sighting was in May 2003).

Dwarf sperm whale – Kogia sima – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

One of the dwarf sperm whales had an extremely distinctive dorsal fin, with several major bite wounds, most likely from cookie-cutter sharks or another shark species. We have a photo-identification catalog of this species and we’ll compare this image to the catalog and to any future photos we obtain from the area.

Hawaiian monk seal – Monachus schauinslandi – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

A rare sighting of a Hawaiian monk seal – in our work we’ve only ever seen monk seals near shore – this seal was ~4 km from shore in about 350 m of water

March 12th update

Survey tracks

The last three days have been quite productive. On March 10th we encountered a different group of false killer whales (from Cluster 1 of the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population), were able to photo-ID about seven individuals and deploy one satellite tag. We’ve also encountered three groups of pilot whales and two groups of spotted dolphins, and covered a lot of ground, including a bit of time on the southeast edge of Penguin Bank, an area we’ve only visited once (briefly, in 2003).

Video footage of false killer whales bowriding from our March 9th encounter.

Remoras can cause a lot of damage to the skin and underlying tissue of a dolphin – this bottlenose dolphin was actively trying to get rid of the remora and the video shows the remora in the act of causing this damage. This is from our March 7th encounter.

March 9th update

False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) with mahi mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

Today was a good day! Our highest priority for the trip was to find false killer whales from “Cluster 4”, a rarely seen social group (aka the cluster formerly known as Cluster 1B), and deploy satellite tags to track their movements. Early this morning we encountered Cluster 4, we were able to deploy three satellite tags to track their movements, obtained identification photos of at least 20 individuals, and got to witness them capturing a mahimahi. At one point we had a dozen individuals bowriding and we were able to get some above- and under-water video. More in the series from the predation event below. Photos (c) Robin W. Baird

False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) with mahi mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird
False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) with mahi mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird
False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) with mahi mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird
False killer whale with Black-footed albatross – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

At one point we had four Black-footed Albatross trying to scavenge bits of mahimahi from the whales. We are hoping to re-locate the group over the next 12 days of the field project and be able to continue to collect information on this poorly known social group.

March 8th update

Pantropical spotted dolphin – Stenella attenuata – Photo (c) Elle M. Walters.

The last few days have been quite productive, with encounters with pilot whales all three days, as well as encounters with bottlenose and pantropical spotted dolphins. This photo shows a spotted dolphin leaping, probably trying to remove a remora.

Pantropical spotted dolphin – Stenella attenuata – Photo (c) Colin J. Cornforth

Over the three days we deployed three satellite tags, one each on a pantropical spotted dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, and short-finned pilot whale. Photo (c) Colin J. Cornforth

Pantropical spotted dolphin – Stenella attenuata – with large remora attached.
Photo (c) Colin J. Cornforth

This bottlenose dolphin has a large remora attached just below the dorsal fin. Remoras are not benign hitchhikers on dolphins – they can do a lot of damage. This remora had caused a large wound at the base of the dorsal fin, and was working the wound to scrape off tissue to eat. You can see in this photo some blood streaming from the wound.

Short-finned pilot whale – Globicephala macrorhynchus – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird.

The satellite tag we deployed on the short-finned pilot whale on March 6th was a prototype Fastloc GPS tag, under development by Wildlife Computers, and we are getting good GPS locations from the tag. These tags should provide much more accurate locations than are available from the Argos satellite tags.

March 5th update

Pygmy killer whale – Feresa attenuata – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

Today we encountered a group of pygmy killer whales off Lāna‘i, our first encounter with this species in the area since 1999! Pygmy killer whales are one of the least-known species of oceanic dolphins in the world, and our study of them in Hawai‘i is the only long-term study of this species anywhere. There is a resident population off Hawai‘i Island, and another off O‘ahu and Penguin Bank, but little is known about this species elsewhere. This photo shows the white around the lips, as well as several white scars, likely caused by cookie-cutter shark bites, and one cut (indentation) on the lip, likely a result of interacting with a fishing line.

Pygmy killer whale – Feresa attenuata – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

We were able to match several individuals to our catalog – this individual is HIFa349 in our catalog, an individual first documented off O‘ahu in 2007, and seen there in 2008, 2009, and 2016. We obtained photos of about 15 different individuals, so should be able to assess whether this may be an area where the two populations overlap.

March 3rd update

Short-finned pilot whale – Globicephala macrorhynchus – Photo (c) Colin J. Cornforth

Today we were able to survey in relatively deep water (>500 m) to the southwest and west of Lāna‘i, and found four different groups of short-finned pilot whales. We were able to photo-identify most of the individuals in each group, and are hoping they will help us better understand the local Maui Nui community of pilot whales.

Short-finned pilot whale – Globicephala macrorhynchus – Photo (c) Elle M. Walters

This adult male pilot whale was in the first group we encountered today. We were able to deploy a LIMPET satellite tag on this individual, our first satellite tag deployed in Hawai‘i this year. We are hoping to be able to track this individual over the next couple of months.

Pantropical spotted dolphin – Stenella attenuata – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

This pantropical spotted dolphin has a hole through the dorsal fin, caused by a bite from a cookie-cutter shark. We are slowly accumulating photos of spotted dolphins in Hawai‘i to establish a photo-ID catalog.

March 1st update

Inclement weather

On February 28th we brought the research boat over from Lahaina to Manele Bay in calm seas, and found a pair of bottlenose dolphins (see below), but today working conditions were less ideal – heavy rain and strong winds prevented us from accomplishing anything other than gear preparation and dealing with other logistics.

Common bottlenose dolphins – Tursiops truncatus – Photo (c) Daniel L. Webster

On the crossing on February 28th we were able to get good photos of the two bottlenose dolphins, a mother and calf pair – in this photo (and the next) the calf is playing around the mother.

Common bottlenose dolphins – Tursiops truncatus – Photo (c) Daniel L. Webster
Common bottlenose dolphins – Tursiops truncatus – Photo (c) Daniel L. Webster

We were able to identify the adult female based on the notches on the trailing edge of the dorsal fin – this individual is HITt024 in our catalog, the 24th bottlenose dolphin that we identified in Hawaiian waters. She was first seen off Maui during a field project on February 19, 2001, just over 16 years ago!

Robin Baird and the Cascadia Research Collective field team.
Photo by Galen Craddock.

The research vessel we’ll be using for this project, a 24′ Hurricane.

Our survey effort off Maui Nui in previous years (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2012).

All photos are copyrighted and should not be used without permission (contact Robin Baird at rwbaird (at) cascadiaresearch.org for permission).

Like us on Facebook page if you want to receive notices of when information is posted and updates on other Cascadia projects.Species: 

Species:

Field Log: October 2016 O‘ahu field project

Tuesday, October 4, 2016 – 17:00

We will be undertaking a 19-day field project off O‘ahu starting October 5, 2016, funded through a NOAA Species Recovery Grant to the State of Hawai‘i. This will be our second field effort off O‘ahu this year (see info from our January effort here) and our sixth field project off the island since we first worked off O‘ahu in 2002. We have a number of goals for our field work, but the primary one is to learn more about false killer whales, through the deployment of LIMPET satellite tags, photo-identification, and collection of biopsy samples for genetics, hormone chemistry and toxicology. We also have funding for tags from a private foundation as well as from Dolphin Quest, and hope to deploy tags on one or more of short-finned pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, or other species we encounter. As usual, we’ll be working with all species of odontocetes we encounter, trying to obtain photos for photo-identification catalogs, and we may also collect biopsy samples for studies of genetics, toxicology, and hormone chemistry of other species.

The research crew for this project will include Daniel Webster, Annie Gorgone, Kim Wood and Robin Baird, all from Cascadia, Shannon Harrison, and a number of volunteers.

If you want some background information on our work in Hawai‘i we published a paper on our first 13 years of surveys and a pdf is available here

If you are interested in what we saw during our 2010 O‘ahu project check out our web blog for that effort

End of project update

A false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) off the northern Wai‘anae coastline, October 23, 2016. Photo by Paul Wade.

Over the last 19 days we’ve covered 1,741 km off the west side of O‘ahu. During that time we had 49 sightings of 9 species of whales and dolphins, including 14 groups of rough-toothed dolphins, 9 groups of pantropical spotted dolphins, 8 groups of pilot whales, 7 groups of false killer whales, 3 sightings each of spinner dolphins and pygmy killer whales, two sightings each of bottlenose dolphins and melon-headed whales (actually just one lone individual traveling with pilot whales), and one sighting of Blainville’s beaked whales. We took 42,839 photos for individual identification, collected 17 biopsies for genetics, pollutants, and hormone chemistry, deployed 7 satellite tags to track movements (on four different species), and collected 1 squid. Besides our field crew, we also took out 40 different individuals to help on the water, and also received significant help and cooperation from the Wai‘anae dolphin watching community. Thank you to you all! All-in-all a very successful field project! Scroll down below to see more photos and video from the project. Our next field project in Hawai‘i will not be until 2017.

October 19th update

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Annie M. Gorgone

In four days off Wai‘anae we’ve now seen all four species of Hawaiian “blackfish” (pygmy killer whales, melon-headed whales, short-finned pilot whales, and today, false killer whales). The individuals we satellite tagged earlier in the trip made a swing by the coast, and we re-located the group and were able to get identification photos of six or eight individuals we had not seen earlier this trip.

ARGOS Map

This map, from the ARGOS system, shows the locations of the tagged individuals over a ~30 hour period. The most recent locations, off the east side of O‘ahu, are from late on October 19.

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Randall S. Wells

A large adult male false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens), HIPc129 in our photo-ID catalog, first documented off Maui in 1991 and seen repeatedly off Hawai‘i Island since, but this is the first record we have of this individual off O‘ahu.

October 18th update

Melon-headed whale – Peponocephala electra – Photo (c) Annie M. Gorgone.

Over the last four days we’ve encountered seven species of toothed whales and dolphins off Wai‘anae, including two new species for the trip. The most unusual sighting was of this individual, a lone melon-headed whale that was traveling with a group of short-finned pilot whales. Melon-headed whales are a very gregarious species, and our average group size is about 250 individuals. We’ve seen them with pilot whales before, but always large groups associated with the pilot whales. Over the time we followed the group the melon-headed whale stayed closely associated with the pilot whales. If you want more information on melon-headed whales in Hawai‘i check out our web page for that species.

Rough-toothed dolphins – Steno bredanensis – Photo (c) Daniel L. Webster

We also saw a number of groups of rough-toothed dolphins (Steno bredanensis), and witnessed quite a bit of foraging. Here two Wedge-tailed Shearwaters are following a rough-toothed dolphin hoping to pick up scraps.

Common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

On October 17th we saw our first group of bottlenose dolphins this trip, a group of six individuals. There is a resident population off O‘ahu, and we obtained identification photos of all the individuals present to compare to our catalog, as well as deployed one LIMPET satellite tag to study their movements.

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Annie M. Gorgone.

The individual we tagged, HITt0604 in our catalog, had been documented once before off O‘ahu, exactly seven years earlier to the day, October 17, 2009! This photo shows the LIMPET tag on the dorsal fin. We are hoping to track this individual over the next few weeks to determine what areas around O‘ahu are most regularly used.

October 14th update

Blainville’s beaked whale – Mesoplodon densirostris Photo (c) Annie M. Gorgone, October 13, 2016

Over the last few days we’ve seen rough-toothed dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, spinner dolphins, short-finned pilot whales, and three Blainville’s beaked whales! The Blainville’s beaked whale sighting is the most unusual – we rarely see this species off O‘ahu, and we were able to get good ID photos of two of the three individuals. This photo, of a male Blainville’s beaked whale, shows the highly arched jaws. What is strange about this photo is that the teeth (they have two teeth in the lower jaws) have not yet erupted, although this individual was definitely the size of an adult male. The white oval scars are from cookie-cutter shark bites, while the linear scars are from interacting with other males.

Blainville’s beaked whale – Mesoplodon densirostris Photo (c) Annie M. Gorgone, October 13, 2016

There is a resident population of Blainville’s beaked whale off the island of Hawai‘i, but based on our photo-identification work (frequent re-sightings off Hawai‘i Island, no re-sightings off O‘ahu or Kaua‘i) the Blainville’s beaked whales off this island are not resident to the area.

Short-finned pilot whale – Globicephala macrorhynchus – Photo (c) Shannon E. Harrison

On October 12th we encountered a large (~60-70) group of pilot whales, and were able to deploy one satellite tag to track movements and collected two biopsy samples for genetics. This calf is probably a couple of months old, and appears to be quite robust.

Short-finned pilot whale – Globicephala macrorhynchus – Photo by Marie C. Hill, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center

This short-finned pilot whale has a very unusual scar on the side of the head around the eye – what could have caused it is unclear. The small orange spot (to the lower right of the white scar) appears to be a cluster of cyamids (“whale lice”).

October 10th update

Pygmy killer whale – Feresa attenuata Photo (c) Annie M. Gorgone

While we did find false killer whales again today (the 4th day in a row!), possibly the more unusual sighting was of a group of pygmy killer whales, a closely-related species. Of the 11 species of resident whales and dolphins in Hawai‘i, pygmy killers are the one we see least often. From long-term photo-identification efforts, we know there is one social group resident to O‘ahu and the Penguin Bank area, and that is the group we found today.

Video footage from our pygmy killer whale encounter.

Pygmy killer whale – Feresa attenuata Photo (c) Annie M. Gorgone

Pygmy killer whales are one of the least-known oceanic dolphins, but more is known of the population in Hawai‘i than anywhere else in the world. They have long-term social bonds, and the appears to be two island-associated populations in Hawai‘i, one off O‘ahu and one off Hawai‘i Island. For more infomation check out our web page on this species.

Pygmy killer whale – Feresa attenuata – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood

This photo shows two juvenile pygmy killer whales from today, one of which with some unusual scrapes along the body. Pygmy killer whales often have paired linear scars caused by interacting with others, but these scars appear more likely to be caused by rubbing against some surface.

October 9th update

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

For the third day in a row we encountered false killer whales off O‘ahu! This individual was leaping while attacking a large (~40-5- lb) mahimahi. It was a small sub-group, only about six individuals, but we were able to get identification photos of all as well as collected two biopsy samples for studies of genetics, toxicology, and hormone chemistry.

Video footage from today’s false killer whale encounter, with the whales pursuing a mahimahi under our boat (note also there is a shark visible circling in the distance).

These Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were following the false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) hoping to pick up scraps! Photo (c) Annie M. Gorgone
A false killer whale, a Wedge-tailed Shearwater, and a very large mahimahi, rammed out of the water. Photo (c) Lynn Padilla

October 8th update

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Shannon E. Harrison

False killer whales off Wai‘anae two days in a row, although today we encountered a group of Cluster 1 individuals, the most frequently encountered social group of false killer whales.

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Shannon E. Harrison

One of the individuals encountered today had a recent line injury on the dorsal fin – these types of injuries occur when a line cuts into the leading edge of the fin, most likely due to hooking and struggling against a fishing line. This individual, HIPc310, is an adult female, first documented off Hawai‘i Island in 2008 and seen 32 times since then, including sightings off Maui, O‘ahu, Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island. Her frequent sighting history means we should have a good chance of documenting how the wound heals.

October 7th update

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Annie M. Gorgone

Today we encountered our highest priority species for the trip, false killer whales! These were members of Cluster 3, the same social group as the individual that was found dead at South Point, Hawaii Island, on September 28, 2016. We were able to get good ID photos of the individuals present, but lost the group in rough seas. Hopefully we’ll see them again soon!

False killer whale – Pseudorca crassidens – Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

There was one mother/calf pair in the group today – we are awaiting an ID of the mother to see if this is her first calf.

October 6th update

Short-finned pilot whale – Globicephala macrorhynchus – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood/Cascadia Research

Our second day on the water was quite productive – early in the morning we found two groups of pilot whales traveling south west of Ko Olina, and were able to photo-identify most of the individuals present as well as deploy one satellite tag (to track movements) and collect several biopsy samples (for genetics). Southern Oahu is an area where two communities of pilot whales overlap, a Kaua‘i/western Oahu community and a O‘ahu/Lana‘i community, and we are hoping this group was from the poorly known O‘ahu/Lana‘i community.

One of the short-finned pilot whales from this morning. Photo (c) Annie M. Gorgone/Cascadia Research.
Pantropical spotted dolphin – Stenella attenuata – Photo (c) Paul C. Johnson/Paulphin Photography.

We also encountered a large group of pantropical spotted dolphins, and were able to deploy one satellite tag to track their movements. This is only the fourth time we’ve tagged a spotted dolphin in Hawai‘i – three insular (island-associated) populations of spotted dolphins were recently recognized in Hawaiian waters, including one off O‘ahu, but little is known of their movements.

October 5th update

Pantropical spotted dolphin – Stenella attenuata – Photo (c) Kimberly A. Wood/Cascadia Research

Our first day on the water we covered 120 kilometers off the Wai‘anae coast, most of it in depths of greater than 500 m (and some as far as 24 km offshore). A good start to the trip, with sightings of spinner dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, and rough-toothed dolphins. We were able to get IDs of about 15 different rough-toothed dolphins, to help understand movements between O’ahu and Kaua’i. This photo of a rough-toothed dolphin from today shows the gently sloping forehead characteristic of the species.

A mother and calf rough-toothed dolphin, October 5, 2016. Photo (c) Annie M. Gorgone/Cascadia Research
Pantropical spotted dolphin, October 5, 2016. Photo (c) Annie M. Gorgone/Cascadia Research
This photo is from our effort off Oahu in January/February 2015, a mother-calf pair of pilot whales in a group that we encountered. Photo (c) Brenda K. Rone
The research vessel we’ll be using for this project, a 24′ Hurricane. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.
Our survey effort in previous years (2002, 2003, 2010, 2015, January 2016).

All photos are copyrighted and should not be used without permission (contact Robin Baird at rwbaird (at) cascadiaresearch.org for permission).

Species: 

Like us on Facebook page if you want to receive notices of when information is posted and updates on other Cascadia projects.