Field log: Kaua’i, Jun/Jul 2012

Cascadia Research will be undertaking a 3-week field project off the island of Kaua‘i starting June 12th, 2012. This will be our 7th field project (and 5th year) working off Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau. The primary purpose of the project is to obtain information on movements and habitat use of a number of species of toothed whales through the deployment of satellite tags. 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. We will also be collecting biopsy samples for toxicology and genetic studies. Last year we had a similar project in July and early August (download a report from that effort here), and like last year we expect to have higher encounter rates than normal since we’ll be working in collaboration with the Marine Mammal Monitoring on Navy Ranges (M3R) program, using the Navy’s hydrophone range off Kaua‘i (see map below) to localize animals. When on the water we will be in constant contact with Navy researchers from the M3R program to help direct us to groups that they are detecting acoustically. This will allow us to confirm the species (to aid in using the acoustic range for research purposes on different species), and should make it much easier for us to find groups of whales and dolphins for tagging, photo-ID and biopsy sampling.

Species that we are hoping to satellite tag include rough-toothed dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, false killer whales, short-finned pilot whales, melon-headed whales, pygmy killer whales, sperm whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales, and Blainville’s beaked whales.

The research team includes Daniel Webster, Jessica Aschettino, and Robin Baird of Cascadia, Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales and a number of volunteers. This work is primarily being funded by a grant from the Naval Postgraduate School (funded by N45), as well as additional support from Commander, Pacific Fleet.

July 2, 2012 update

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Rough-toothed dolphin leaping, July 2, 2012. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino. This individual has an injured dorsal fin, with the top of the fin tilted to the right.

Today was the last day of our 3-week field project. Over the three weeks we had 67 sightings of six species, including 34 sightings of rough-toothed dolphins, 15 sightings of bottlenose dolphins, 10 sightings of spinner dolphins, 2 sightings of false killer whales, and single sightings of pilot whales and pantropical spotted dolphins (plus 4 sightings of unidentified dolphins). Over the 3-weeks we deployed 8 satellite tags on three species, including another location/dive tag doday on a rough-toothed dolphin, collected 13 biopsy samples for genetics, and took over 18,000 photographs. Overall a very successful project and we are looking forward to location and dive data coming in from the satellite tags. Our next field project in Hawai‘i will be in August off Hawai‘i Island, check our web page for information on that project starting ~August 9th.

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A map showing our tracklines for this trip.

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Rough-toothed dolphin with satellite (location/dive) tag on the dorsal fin, July 2, 2012. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino

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Bottlenose dolphin, July 2, 2012. Photo (c) Jeff Hogan

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Scanning for dolphins off Na Pali, Kaua‘i, July 2, 2012. Photo (c) Robin Baird

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Spinner dolphins, July 2, 2012. Photo (c) Daniel Webster

July 1, 2012 update

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Bottlenose dolphins, July 1, 2012. Photo (c) Jeff Hogan

Wind forecasts for the last eight days have ranged from 15-25 knots, and our range, sighting rates, and productivity have all varied with the wind speeds, with from 0 to 3 sightings on the 25 knot days. The last two days forecasts have been for winds of 15 knots, giving us a larger area to work and a longer time period to work in it, resulting in more sightings and better conditions for tagging. Today we had 10 sightings of three species, including eight sightings of rough-toothed dolphins, and single sightings of spinner and bottlenose dolphins.

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We were able to deploy a location/dive satellite tag on a rough-toothed dolphin today – the map shows locations in the first few hours after tagging, so are looking forward to getting dive data from this individual. The location/dive tags transmit information on the duration, maximum depth and shape of all dives over 30 m deep – assuming the tag works this will provide the first dive data from this species in Hawaiian waters.

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Rough-toothed dolphin, July 1, 2012. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino

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Bottlenose dolphins, June 24, 2012. Photo (c) Jeff Hogan. On June 24th we also tagged a bottlenose dolphin with a location/dive satellite tag, and since then have been receiving both location and dive data from the tagged dolphin, the first dive data from bottlenose dolphins in Hawaiian waters. So far we’ve received information on 295 dives, with several dives over 400 m deep.

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Map showing movements of the bottlenose dolphin tagged with the location/dive tag over the 8 days since tagging.

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Map showing movements of one of the satellite-tagged false killer whales over the last three days. We are still getting movement data from the false killer whales tagged in the second and third day of the project – during the last two weeks they have spent their time in the eastern-third of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and are currently off French Frigate Shoals.

June 23, 2012 update

Although we’ve continued to have strong winds and a relatively narrow area to work in, we’ve had encounters with all three of the common species around Kaua‘i, spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and rough-toothed dolphins, and have been able to photo-identify many individuals.

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An adult female and newborn rough-toothed dolphin, June 23, 2012. Photo (c) Daniel Webster

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The fetal folds on the newborn, vertical pigmentation marks on the side of the neonate caused by the folding of the fetus in utero, are clearly visible. Photo (c) Daniel Webster

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Three rough-toothed dolphins, June 23, 2012. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino. The middle individual has a fresh wound caused by a cookie-cutter shark, and all three have scars from numerous healed cookie-cutter shark bites.

June 21, 2012 update

Locations from the satellite tags deployed on the three false killer whales strongly suggest the individuals are from the Monument population (see below).

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A map showing movements of two of the three tagged false killer whales over the last three days, showing only high-quality locations.The small island visible is Nihoa, the eastern-most of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

Weather has remained poor and in the last two days we’ve had a few sightings of rough-toothed dolphins and spinner dolphins.

June 19, 2012 update

The last two days the weather has remained sub-optimal (e.g., forecast winds of 25 knots and at most only a few hours of workable conditions each day). In the first three days of the project we covered 464 kilometers and had 13 sightings; in the last five days we’ve covered only 372 kilometers with just 8 sightings (with no sightings on three of the five days). Today is supposed to be the peak in winds and they are projected to lessen tomorrow (to a forecast of 20 knots), so we are hoping for slightly better conditions. In the meanwhile, yesterday we did encounter two groups of bottlenose dolphins and one group of rough-toothed dolphins and were able to photo-identify many of the individuals present.

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Rough-toothed dolphins, June 18, 2012. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino

June 17, 2012 update

Although the weather conditions have deteriorated (forecast winds of 20 knots), we had a productive day on the water, with a sighting of our fifth species for the trip, a group of short-finned pilot whales.

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Three short-finned pilot whales, June 17, 2012. Photo (c) Jeff Hogan

We also had several encounters with rough-toothed dolphins, were able to photo-identify more than 20 individuals, and we deployed one satellite tag, the fifth tag we’ve deployed on a rough-toothed dolphin in Hawai‘i.

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Rough-toothed dolphins, June 17, 2012. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino

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Today the satellite-tagged false killer whales entered the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The map above shows high quality locations only for two of the whales for the five days since tagging.

June 15, 2012 update

With a forecast of “winds variable less than 10 knots” we decided to launch out of Port Allen and head to the southeast, getting some effort in deep water to the south of the island, with the hopes of finding one of several deep-water species. Sadly the forecast was not particularly accurate and despite covering almost 60 kilometers of trackline we returned to the harbor with no sightings.

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A map of the movements of the satellite-tagged false killer whales over the last three days, through late afternoon today (June 15).

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Our tracklines from the first three days of our project, with yesterday’s (June 14) trackline highlighted. Most of the northern part (heading generally east) was during our encounter with false killer whales.

June 14, 2012 update

Prior to yesterday in field projects off Kaua‘i since 2003 we’ve covered over 8,300 kilometers of survey trackline on 80 different days in five different years, and we’d never seen false killer whale, while elsewhere in the main Hawaiian Islands we’ve encountered this species an average of once every ~2 weeks on the water. So it was definitely time. Yesterday, and again today, we encountered false killer whales, our highest priority species.

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Mother and calf false killer whale, June 14, 2012. Photo (c) Robin Baird.

During the encounters we photo-identified more than 20 individuals, collected 11 biopsy samples for genetics and toxicology, and deployed three satellite tags. Although we’ve only had time to take some of the photos through our identification catalog, it appears these individuals are most likely part of the recently-discovered Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) population of this species. That population was first discovered in 2010 during a NOAA research cruise, when two individuals off Nihoa were satellite tagged and a number of individuals were biopsy sampled and photo-identified. From the photos we knew that individuals did move from the NWHI to Kaua‘i (see report here on that work), based on matches with photos taken by the captain of a local snorkeling/sightseeing boat. Data from the tags deployed will provide the first detailed information on movements of individuals from this population around Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau.

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Two adult false killer whales, June 14, 2012. The close individual is likely an adult male – the front of the head of adult males is flatter, and adult males are larger than adult females. Photo (c) Robin Baird. We also obtained a number of laser photogrammetry photos to help estimate age class of individuals, and observed two fish chases/predation events.

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False killer whale off of the Napali cliffs, Kaua‘i, June 14, 2012. Photo (c) Robin Baird

June 12, 2012 update

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Rough-toothed dolphin with mouth open, carrying a mahimahi, June 12, 2012. Photo (c) Daniel Webster

Our first day on the water we covered 150 kilometers between Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, with two sightings of rough-toothed dolphins, and one sighting each of spinner and bottlenose dolphins. Although the weather was not quite as calm as forecasted we were able to have a productive first day, obtaining identification photos of about 10 individual rough-toothed dolphins, one bottlenose dolphin and a number of spinner dolphins, and collecting one biopsy sample of a rough-toothed dolphin.

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Juvenile rough-toothed dolphin with a plastic bag in the mouth, June 12, 2012. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino.

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Our study area for the June/July project. The Navy’s hydrophone range it shaded – approximately 175 hydrophones are spread across the shaded area connected to the M3R system.

Field log: Hawai’i, Oct/Nov 2011

In October and November 2011 we are undertaking a month-long collaborative research project off the island of Hawai‘i. The research team includes Aran Mooney of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Russ Andrews of the University of Alaska Fairbanks/Alaska SeaLife Center, Aliza Milette of the University of Hawai‘i, Dan McSweeney of the Wild Whale Research Foundation, and Jessica Aschettino, Greg Schorr, Daniel Webster and Robin Baird of Cascadia. Like most of our field projects we have a number of research goals. Our primary funding for this project comes from grants from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), through WHOI, and the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP), through the Alaska SeaLife Center. The NOPP grant (primarily funded by ONR) focuses on follow up of previously satellite tagged individuals and using a Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR) camera to examine circulation in the dorsal fin of tagged individuals, while the ONR grant is to study the acoustic behavior of melon-headed whales and false killer whales using suction-cup attached DTags (Digital acoustic tags). In addition to those primary goals, we will be deploying satellite tags on a number of species to examine movements and habitat use, obtaining identification photos of a number of species of toothed whales and dolphins to assess abundance and social organization, as well as collecting biopsy samples for genetic and toxicology studies.

All photos are copyrighted and should not be used without permission.

End of project update

November 13 was our last day on the water. We covered 3,993 kilometers in 27 days on the water (with two boats operating on six of the days), and had 101 sightings of 13 species of odontocetes. Our most frequently encountered species were pantropical spotted dolphins (27 sightings), closely followed by short-finned pilot whales (26 sightings). Most unusual for the trip were the large number of sightings of dwarf sperm whales (10 groups, the third most frequently-sighted species), Cuvier’s beaked whales (6 sightings) and pygmy killer whales (6 sightings). Prior to this trip, over our 12-year field effort, these three species have ranked as the 6th, 7th, and 13th most frequently encountered species, respectively, so sighting rates have been unusually high. As well as taking over 35,000 photos for individual identification, and collecting 19 biopsy samples, we deployed 17 satellite tags (on 6 species), obtained FLIR images of many tagged and previously tagged individuals, and deployed DTags on a short-finned pilot whale, several melon-headed whales, and a false killer whale from the Hawai‘i insular population. All-in-all a good trip.

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Bottlenose dolphin, November 13, 2011. Photo (c) Russ Andrews.

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Our vessel tracklines for the trip, with our last day (November 13, 2011) highlighted. We spent 27 days on the water (six with two vessels simultaneously), covering almost 4,000 kilometers of trackline.

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Bottlenose dolphin, November 13, 2011. Photo (c) Aran Mooney

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Juvenile pantropical spotted dolphin leaping next to an adult, November 13, 2011. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino. Note the remora on the belly of the dolphin.

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Hatchetfish found floating at the surface, November 13, 2011. Photo (c) Daniel Webster

November 11, 2011 update

In the last two days we’ve had encounters with pantropical spotted dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, and Cuvier’s beaked whales.

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Adult female Cuvier’s beaked whale, November 10, 2011. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino. On November 10 we encountered two Cuvier’s, an adult female, and a calf thought to be less than a year and a half old. The adult female is a well-known individual from the resident population (HIZc007 in our catalog), having been documented on seven previous occasions between 2004 and 2010. Our last encounter with HIZc2010 was in April 2010 – during that encounter we deployed a satellite tag and tracked her movements and dive behavior over a week-long period (download a report on results from that work here) – no calf was present during that encounter, so the calf was born some time after that encounter.

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Mother and calf Cuvier’s beaked whales logging at the surface, November 11, 2011. Photo (c) Russ Andrews. These two individuals are the same two seen November 10, 2011.

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Bowriding pantropical spotted dolphin, November 11, 2011. Photo (c) Aran Mooney. As well as photo-identifying individual spotted dolphins we are also collecting biopsy samples for several studies, including a study of microbes by Amy Apprill at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Very little is known about the microbial community associated with marine mammals, yet these microbes may provide important information about the health or ecology of the animals. The skin samples collected from marine mammals during this field work will be used for a novel investigation of their associated bacterial community. Amy is using DNA-based molecular-type techniques, including the latest in ‘next generation’ sequencing technology to study these microbes. From just a single skin sample, she is able to generate ~10,000 sequences of a ribosomal gene region that provides information about the identity of the associated bacteria. Comparisons of bacterial communities between individuals, populations and across diverse species will help in the understanding of how these communities are structured, and what factors may be influencing this structure.

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Pantropical spotted dolphins wake-riding, November 10, 2011. Photo (c) Aran Mooney

November 9, 2011 update

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A FLIR (Forward Looking InfraRed) image of the “Wild Whale” research crew. From left to right: Russ Andrews, Jessica Aschettino (with Dexter), Daniel Webster, Robin Baird, Aran Mooney, Greg Schorr, Aliza Milette. We are using the FLIR to image the dorsal fin of tagged and non-tagged pilot whales and other species, to assess the potential influence of the tags on dorsal fin circulation.

In the last week we’ve had 22 sightings of four species of odontocetes, including four sightings of pygmy killer whales. We’ve deployed one satellite tag (on a short-finned pilot whale), obtained a lot of photos for individual photo-identification, and collected five biopsy samples for genetics and toxicology studies.

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Juvenile pantropical spotted dolphin leaping in an attempt to remove a remora, November 8, 2011. The skin lesions below and behind the dorsal fin are likely from persistent remora presence. Photo (c) Daniel Webster

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A group of pantropical spotted dolphins, including a neonate, with the faint fetal folds visible, November 8, 2011. The neonate has a partially healed bite wound from a cookie-cutter shark on its flank. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino

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Spinner dolphin, seen with a group of pantropical spotted dolphins offshore of Kona, November 8, 2011. Photo (c) Daniel Webster. This is the same individual that we documented offshore with spotted dolphins both in August 2011 and May 2011, suggesting this association may be a long-term one. In August 2011 this individual was seen with a small calf in close attendance, but the calf was not with the spinner dolphin November 8, 2011.

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Pygmy killer whale breaching, November 6, 2011. Photo (c) Robin Baird. The white scars on the belly of this individual are healed scars from cookie-cutter shark bites. We had four sightings of pygmy killer whales over a three-day period, including re-sightings of a pair of individuals present in three of the four sightings.

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A white-necked petrel, November 3, 2011. Photo (c) Daniel Webster

November 2, 2011 update

In the last few days we’ve re-deployed the HARP, and have had 14 encounters with six species of odontocetes: four groups of dwarf sperm whales (three today alone!), two groups of pantropical spotted dolphins, three groups of short-finned pilot whales, two groups of Cuvier’s beaked whales, and one group each of melon-headed whales and spinner dolphins. We’ve also had nice sightings of a tiger shark and some interesting seabirds.

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Dwarf sperm whales off Kona, November 2, 2011. Photo (c) Greg Schorr. The adult female on the right with the well-marked fin is HIKs020 in our photo-identification catalog. She was first documented off the island in 2004, and was seen in 2006, twice in 2008, and in 2009 (see a photo of her and a calf from October 30, 2009 on our October/November 2009 project web page).

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A banded South Polar Skua, November 2, 2011. Photo (c) Daniel Webster.

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Wake-riding pantropical spotted dolphins, November 2, 2011. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino.

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Tiger shark off Kona, November 1, 2011. Photo (c) Daniel Webster

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Deploying the HARP, November 1, 2011. Photo (c) Robin Baird. For more information on the information being recorded by the HARP see a report written up on preliminary results from November 2010.

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Melon-headed whale mother and infant, October 31, 2011. Photo (c) Robin Baird.

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Breaching Cuvier’s beaked whale, October 31, 2011. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino

October 29, 2011 update

In the last few days we’ve collected four more squid, recovered the HARP (High-frequency Acoustic Reporting Package) deployed off Kona earlier in the year, encountered more striped dolphins and rough-toothed dolphins, and obtained more FLIR images of tagged and untagged short-finned pilot whales.

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Rough-toothed dolphins, October 29, 2011. Photo by Daniel Webster

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Mottled petrel, October 29, 2011. Photo by Daniel Webster.

October 26, 2011 update

Today we encountered our highest priority species for the trip, false killer whales. Early in the morning we encountered a group of about 16 false killer whales from the Hawaii insular population, about 10% of the entire population. We were able to photo-identify most of the individuals, we deployed one satellite tag, and also deployed (and recovered) a Dtag.

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False killer whales regularly leap out of the water when they are chasing prey, which makes them easy to spot at a distance – we were 3.2 kilometers from this group when we first spotted them. Photo (c) Robin Baird, October 26, 2011.

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False killer whale and mahi mahi – the mahi mahi was thrown out of the water during the attack. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino, October 26, 2011. We witnessed five predation events during the encounter, four on mahi and one on a large unidentified fish.

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False killer whale with mahi mahi, October 26, 2011. Photo (c) Russ Andrews

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False killer whale with a very large mahi mahi. Photo (c) Robin Baird

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False killer whale mother and calf, October 26, 2011. Photo (c) Russ Andrews

October 25, 2011 update

In our 8 days on the water (albeit with two boats for five of the days) we’ve had 37 sightings of 12 species of odontocetes. Six of these sightings have been of dwarf sperm whales – tied for the second-most frequently encountered species of the trip, so far. Quite amazing given how difficult this species is to detect. Today we encountered a group of about 7 dwarf sperm whales, including three mother/calf pairs and one lone (large) adult, probably an adult male. We were able to photo-identify all the individuals present.

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A mother and calf pair of dwarf sperm whales off Kona, October 25, 2011. Photo (c) Robin Baird. The large wound behind the dorsal fin of the adult female is from a large shark, probably a tiger shark.

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Mother and calf pair of dwarf sperm whales, October 25, 2011. Photo (c) Robin Baird

October 24, 2011 update

Using information from the satellite tags we deployed earlier in the trip, today we encountered a group of about 300 melon-headed whales from the Hawai‘i Island resident population.

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Melon-headed whales, October 24, 2011. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino. We were able to photo-identify more than half the individuals present, and also deployed a Dtag.

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Melon-headed whale leaping, October 24, 2011. Photo (c) Daniel Webster

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Two dwarf sperm whales, October 24, 2011. Photo (c) Daniel Webster. We also encounterd three dwarf sperm whales, including this mother and calf pair, as well as a probable adult male (based on the size). The male was quite distinctive and we will compare it to our photo-identification catalog to see if it is a member of the resident population. For more information on dwarf sperm whales see our web page web page on this species.

October 23, 2011 update

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Close up of the head of an adult male Blainville’s beaked whale, October 23, 2011. Photo (c) Daniel Webster. Today we encountered two new species for the trip (bringing the total so far to 12 species of odontocetes), including a group of about 9 Blainville’s beaked whales. This individual is an adult male – the tip of the left tooth is just visible, and both teeth are covered by stalked barnacles. We were able to photo-identify several individuals (and recognize one, an adult female, that we’ve seen several times in the past), and deployed a satellite tag on the adult male to track its movements. We are able to identify this as an adult male both by the teeth and the extensive linear scarring typical of adult male Blainville’s. This individual is actually missing a fair amount of tissue behind the blow hole, probably caused by fighting with other male Blainville’s. For more information on beaked whales see our web page for beaked whales in Hawaii.

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The typical distance that we see most beaked whales at – this photo was taken with a lens at 310 mm focal length (~6 times magnification) and is not cropped. Photo (c) Daniel Webster, October 23, 2011.

October 22, 2011 update

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A dwarf sperm whale off Kona, October 22, 2011. Photo (c) Aliza Milette. Today we encountered a pair of dwarf sperm whales. This species has a reputation for avoiding boats, but in fact is just very unpredictable in it’s surfacing patterns. We followed the group for 25 minutes and photo-identified both individuals, then left to continue our search.

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A pair of rough-toothed dolphins, photo (c) Aran Mooney. We encountered two new species of odontocetes for the trip today (bringing the total for the trip to 10 so far), including two groups of rough-toothed dolphins – we were able to collect one biopsy sample and photo-identify most of the individuals present.

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A FLIR image of a short-finned pilot whale. Photo (c) Russ Andrews. We also encountered two groups of pilot whales, including individuals we tagged on previous days this trip. We were able to photo-identify all the individuals present as well as obtain FLIR images to examine circulation in the dorsal fin of tagged and untagged individuals.

October 21, 2011 update

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A well-marked pygmy killer whale, October 21, 2011. Photo (c) Dan McSweeney. Today we encountered our second group of pygmy killer whales for the trip. Normally we encounter this species only every couple of weeks so two sightings in four days has given us an opportunity to get identification photos of far more individuals than we normally get during such periods. For more information on pygmy killer whales see our web page for that species.

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An olive ridley sea turtle off Kona, October 21, 2011 (with thanks to George Balazs for species confirmation). Photo (c) Daniel Webster. Sea turtles are surprisingly rare in offshore waters off the Kona coast – today we encountered the first olive ridely sea turtle we have seen in Hawaiian waters.

October 20, 2011 update

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Sperm whales off Kona, October 20, 2011. Photo (c) Robin Baird. Today we encountered four species of odontocetes, including one new species for the trip, a group of about 25 sperm whales. We were able to deploy two satellite tags to track movements.

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Sperm whale fluking, October 20, 2011. Photo (c) Robin Baird. Normally individual sperm whales are identified by fluke photographs, but in Hawaiian waters they rarely fluke when they dive, so we also obtain dorsal fin photos for our photo-identification catalog.

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Squid found today off Kona, October 20, 2011. Photo (c) Daniel Webster. We collect all floating squid, to help identify prey available in the area for deep-diving odontocetes, as well as for stable isotope analyses.

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Hawaiian petrel, October 20, 2011. Photo (c) Daniel Webster.

October 19, 2011 update

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Striped dolphin, October 19, 2011. Photo (c) Daniel Webster

Our second day on the water was also quite productive, with five sightings of five species, including four new species for the trip. We encountered a small group of striped dolphins (~5 individuals) in relatively shallow water, ~1600 m deep. We see this species commonly in deep water (>3500 m) offshore of Kona, but rarely in such shallow water. For more information on striped dolphins in Hawaii see our web page for that species.

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Adult male Cuvier’s beaked whale, October 19, 2011. Photo (c) Aliza Milette. We also encountered a group of three Cuvier’s beaked whale, including this adult male (identifiable as an adult male by the large number of linear white scars, caused by fighting with other adult males). We were able to photo-identify all three individuals and deployed a satellite tag (one that transmits both location and dive data) on one individual.

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Bow-riding melon-headed whale, October 19, 2011. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino. We also encountered a group of approximately 350 melon-headed whales, members of the Hawai‘i Island resident population, and were able to photo-identify about half the group, and also deployed two satellite tags (one location-only and one location/dive tag), as well as the first Dtag deployment on a melon-headed whale. Although the tag only stayed on about half an hour, it did record a variety of acoustic and behavioral information.

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Melon-headed whale, October 19, 2011. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino.

October 18, 2011 update

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Short-finned pilot whale spyhopping, October 18, 2011. Photo (c) Daniel McSweeney.

Today was our first day on the water for the trip and we used both the 27′ Whaler and the 21′ whaler, with the two vessels surveying in opposite directions. Between the two boats we covered ~240 km, and had six sightings between them, of three different species. We encountered two groups of short-finned pilot whales, and were able to deploy two satellite tags on individuals in each of the two groups.

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Short-finned pilot whale with satellite tag, October 18, 2011. Photo (c) Greg Schorr.

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Pygmy killer whale off Kona, October 18, 2011. Photo (c) Aliza Milette

We also encountered a rare species for the area, a group of four pygmy killer whales, and were able to get identification photos of at least three individuals. (October 19 update: we’ve matched these three individuals to our catalog – all three have previously been seen on two occasions, all together off this island in 2000 and 2006).

Off the north Kona coast we also had a very good day for sightings of seabirds, with ~20 different petrel sightings, including Hawaiian petrels and black-winged petrels, as well as a South Polar Skua.

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Black-winged petrel off Kona, October 18, 2011. Photo (c) Aliza Milette

some photos from previous projects showing a FLIR image

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A FLIR image from a pilot whale from our April/May 2009 project. This individual has not been previously tagged, but has two areas with elevated skin temperature. The scale on the right side is in degrees Celcius.

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The adult male pilot whale whose dorsal fin was imaged with the FLIR above. Photo (c) Jessica Aschettino. The wound on the fin is probably a healing bite wound from a cookie-cutter shark.

All photographs on this page are copyrighted and are not to be used without permission.

Field log: Hawai’i, Aug 2011

Cascadia Research and the Wild Whale Research Foundation are undertaking a 3 week field project off the island of Hawai‘i starting August 11th, 2011. This will be our second field project off the island this year. The primary purpose of the project is to obtain identification photos of a number of species of toothed whales, both for follow up on previously tagged animals, as well as to assess movements and abundance. As well we are collecting biopsy samples for genetic and toxicology studies.

The research team includes Dan McSweeney of the Wild Whale Research Foundation and Jessica Aschettino and Elisa Weiss, as well as a number of volunteers. This work is being funded by the Wild Whale Research Foundation and from a National Oceanographic Parternship Program (NOPP) grant.

The most recent updates are at the top of the page, to start from our first day click here

August 29, 2011 update

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Spinner dolphin next to a neonate, August 29, 2011. Photo by Dan McSweeney. Is the new born dolphin a spinner or a spotted dolphin, or a hybrid of the two? This spinner dolphin was first seen in May 2011 17 kilometers offshore of Kona mixed in with a group of pantropical spotted dolphins (see a photo of it on our May 2011 web page), the furthest offshore we’d ever documented a spinner dolphin in Hawai‘i. The sighting today was also offshore and it was with a group of spotted dolphins – we were able to match it to the May sighting using the notches on the dorsal fin. In the last two days we’ve seen this individual, with the neonate, from ~9 to 13 kilometers offshore. Below are photos of young spinner and spotted dolphins from previous field projects for comparison.

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Spinner dolphin neonate seen off Kaua‘i, August 8, 2011. Photo by Daniel Webster. Note the larger and less falcate dorsal fin, differences in coloration, and differences in head shape from the newborn above.

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Pantropical spotted dolphin calf, May 11, 2011. Photo by Annie Douglas. The neonate from today most closely resembles a pantropical spotted dolphin, so may either be a case where the neonate was separated from its mother and was just associating with the spinner dolphin, or a possible hybrid.

August 27, 2011 update

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A quiet day on the water today, with our only sighting a group of pantropical spotted dolphins. This individual leaping, probably an attempt to remove remoras. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

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Close up of a remora on a pantropical spotted dolphin, August 27, 2011. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

August 26, 2011 update

Today we encountered a mixed group of short-finned pilot whales and melon-headed whales. The melon-headed whales were from the Hawaii Island resident population – this is the first time we’ve seen individuals from this population with pilot whales and it was the furthest south they’ve been documented off the island, off of Keahou.

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Short-finned pilot whale spyhopping, August 26, 2011. Photo by Dan McSweeney

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Short-finned pilot whale (foreground) and melon-headed whales (background), AUgust 26, 2011. Photo by Dan McSweeney.

August 25, 2011 update

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False killer whale leaping, August 25, 2011. Photo by Jessica Aschettino. Today we encountered a different group of false killer whales from the Hawaiian insular population. We were able to identify at least 25 individuals and collected five biopsy samples for genetics and toxicology.

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False killer whale, August 25, 2011. Photo by Jessica Aschettino

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False killer whale leaping, August 25, 2001. Photo by Jessica Aschettino

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False killer whales with fish, August 25, 2011. Photo by Katerina Tritz

August 24, 2011 update

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A melon-headed whale mother and infant, August 24, 2011. Photo by Nancy Young. Note the fetal folds on the newborn.

In the last two days we’ve encountered a group of the Hawai‘i Island resident population of melon-headed whales both days. On August 23rd we encountered about 350 individuals, took identification photos of about 200 of them, and collected 8 biopsy samples for genetics and toxiology. Today we encountered about 200 individuals, got photos of about 140 of them, and collected four more biopsies.

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This individual, HIPe1518 in our catalog, was first seen in 2005 and has now been seen on seven occasions since, in 2006, 2008, 2010, and this year. Photo August 24, 2011 by Dan McSweeney.

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Melon-headed whales porpoising, August 24, 2011. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

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Melon-headed whale with scars, probably from a failed shark attack. Photo by Dan McSweeney, August 24, 2011.

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Melon-headed whales from the Hawai‘i Island resident population, August 23, 2011. Photo by Jessica Aschettino

August 22, 2011 update

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Rough-toothed dolphins, August 22, 2011. Photo by Jessica Aschettino

A good day on the water today, with encounters with three species, two new for the trip. We observed a pygmy sperm whale, a very uncommon species in the area, but unfortunately were not able to get photos. We also encountered another group of pygmy killer whales, and our first group of rough-toothed dolphins for this trip.

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Rough-toothed dolphin leaping, August 23, 2011. Photo by Elisa Weiss. The white scars on the belly of this individual are caused by bites from cookie-cutter sharks.

August 21, 2011 update

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Two pygmy killer whales, August 21, 2011. Today we encountered our 9th species of odontocete for the trip, a group of three pygmy killer whales. Both individuals had been previously documented off the island of Hawai‘i in 2006. Photo by Dan McSweeney. The white linear scars are caused by interactions with other pygmy killer whales.

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The pygmy killer whales (back left) were with a group of short-finned pilot whales. Photo by Elisa Weiss

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Pygmy killer whale showing the white lips characteristic of this species. Photo by Jessica Aschettino. For more information on pygmy killer whales see our web page for this species.

August 20, 2011 update

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False killer whales off the island of Hawai‘i, August 20, 2011. Photo by Dan McSweeney. Today we encountered our highest priority species for the trip, a group of about 40 false killer whales from the Hawaiian insular population. We recognized many of the individuals present, and were able to obtain identification photos of all them, observed four predation events, and collected 12 biopsy samples for genetics and toxicology studies. For more information on false killer whales in Hawai‘i see our web page for this species.

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A very distinctive false killer whale August 20, 2011 – this individual has an injury on the leading edge of the dorsal fin probably caused by interactions with fishing gear. Photo by Dan McSweeney

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False killer whale seen August 20, 2011, Photo by Dan McSweeney. This individual, HIPc197 in our catalog, was first photographed off the island of Hawai‘i by Dan McSweeney on October 2, 1986, and was seen most recently on August 14, 2010 during our project off the island last year.

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A juvenile false killer whale, August 20, 2011. Photo by Jessica Aschettino

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False killer whales off Kona, August 20, 2011. Photo by Jessica Aschettino

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A juvenile false killer whale with two small remoras, August 20, 2011. Photo by Elisa Weiss

August 19, 2011 update

Today we encountered our seventh species of odontocete for the trip, a lone Cuvier’s beaked whale.

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Cuvier’s beaked whale, August 19, 2011. Photo by Dan McSweeney. This individual appears to have a injured or deformed lower jaw. Since there are no teeth erupted from the tip of the lower jaw, this is an adult female. For more information on beaked whales see our Hawai‘i beaked whale page.

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Cuvier’s beaked whale, showing fresh and healed cookie-cutter shark bite wounds. Photo by Elisa Weiss.

August 16, 2011 update

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A juvenile Blainville’s beaked whale, August 16, 2011. Photo by Elisa Weiss. Our 6th day of the trip and we encountered our sixth species of odontocete, a lone Blainville’s beaked whale. The white oval scars are from cookie-cutter sharks. The series of small white scars in the middle of the back are probably from an interaction with a different species of toothed whale, while the long linear marks may be from an interaction with an adult male Blainville’s beaked whale.

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A juvenile Blainville’s beaked whale, August 16, 2011. Photo by Elisa Weiss.

August 15, 2011 update

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Short-finned pilot whale, August 15, 2011. Photo by Elisa Weiss. Yesterday and today we encountered the same group of about 30 short-finned pilot whales. We were able to photo-ID all of them and obtain laser photogrammetry images of about half of the individuals.

August 13, 2011 update

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Pantropical spotted dolphin, August 13, 2011. Photo by Elisa Weiss. On April 12th we observed a group of three dwarf sperm whales but were unable to get any photos. Today our only encounter was a feeding group of pantropical spotted dolphins.

August 11, 2011 update

Our first day on the water was quite productive, with an encounter with a group of about 400 melon-headed whales. We collected >5,000 photographs and 10 biopsy samples. We recognized a number of individuals present – this group is part of the main Hawaiian Islands population of melon-headed whales, which range throughout the main Hawaiian Islands and offshore. This is our first sighting from this population since April 2009. We also encountered a small group of pantropical spotted dolphins and there were spinner dolphins at the mouth of Honokohau Harbor as we left this morning.

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Melon-headed whale mother and infant, August 11, 2011. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

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Melon-headed whale, August 11, 2011. Photo by Dan McSweeney.

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Melon-headed whale with injury to fin, August 11, 2011. Photo by Dan McSweeney.

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Melon-headed whale with injury to fin, probably caused by a shark attack, August 11, 2011. Photo by Dan McSweeney

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Melon-headed whale, August 11, 2011. Photo by Elisa Weiss.

Field log: Hawai’i, Dec 2010

Cascadia Research is undertaking a field project off the island of Hawai‘i from December 5-17, 2010, our fourth field effort this year (and the third off this island). Our primary goal for this project is to obtain information on movements and habitat use of false killer whales, but we will be working with most species of toothed whales we encounter, attempting to deploy satellite tags and obtaining biopsy samples (for toxicology and genetic studies) from most species. Other species that we are hoping to satellite tag are short-finned pilot whales, melon-headed whales, pygmy killer whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales, Blainville’s beaked whales, and sperm whales. We will also be obtaining photos for individual photo-identification catalogs of 10 species, and collecting squid and sightings of sea birds.

The research team includes Greg Schorr, Daniel Webster, Jessica Aschettino and Robin Baird of Cascadia, Dan McSweeney of the Wild Whale Research Foundation, Renee Albertson of Oregon State University and a number of volunteers. This work is primariliy being funded by a grant from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, with additional support from Dolphin Quest, the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, and the Naval Postgraduate School.

For more information see our Hawai‘i odontocete research page

 

December 17th update

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Short-finned pilot whale spyhopping, December 17, 2010. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

Today was the last day of this field project and our last day on the water in Hawai‘i for 2010. This trip we spent 101 hours on the water over 12 days, covered 1,801 kilometers of trackline, had 30 encounters with 10 species of odontocetes, took 12,997 cetacean photos, collected 19 genetic samples (of 5 species), and deployed nine satellite tags. Overall a very good trip.

A map showing a sea surface height model for the last 30 days from the Naval Research Laboratory Global Ocean Analysis and Monitoring web site. This model shows how dynamic the ocean currents are around the main Hawaiian Islands, largely driven by the prevaling trade winds. Over the last month there has been a large clockwise (downwelling) eddy off the west side of the island, and a counter-clockwise (upwelling) eddy further offshore to the west. These oceanographic patterns must influence the distribution of whale and dolphins around the islands – during this trip we had no sightings of rough-toothed dolphins (typically our fifth-most frequently encountered species), and only three sightings of short-finned pilot whales (typically our most frequently encountered species) – it is likely that the distribution of both species has been influenced by the large eddies offshore.

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These currents have also influenced the amount of debris off the island – during this trip we’ve collected five glass balls – Japanese fishing floats. In the last 10 and a half years of field work in Hawai‘i we’d only found four glass balls, so five in one trip is quite amazing!

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Juvenile short-finned pilot whales rolling belly-up at the surface, December 17, 2010. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

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Short-finned pilot whale spyhopping, December 17, 2010. Photo by Mark Malleson.

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Pantropical spotted dolphin, December 17, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster.

December 15th update

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False killer whale seen off the island of Hawai‘i, December 15, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster.

Today we found two false killer whales from the Hawaiian insular population off the northwest part of the island. Although we did not see any of the satellite tagged individuals from December 11, the two individuals were likely close to the rest of the group, based on the locations received from the satellite tags. The individual above, HIPc164 in our catalog, was first documented May 26, 2003 off O‘ahu and has been seen a number of times since off both O‘ahu and the island of Hawai‘i.

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Striped dolphins off Kona, December 15, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster. We also encountered another group of striped dolphins, as well as a a group of pantropical spotted dolphins.

December 14th update

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Map showing movements of satellite-tagged false killer whales since they were tagged on December 11th. The whales moved up the Kona coast today and we covered 176 kilometers trying to find them, but the weather did not cooperate (we experienced primarily Beaufort 3 and 4 conditions), and the time-delay in order to obtain the satellite locations (typically an hour or more) left us searching for the whales without success.

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Adult pantropical spotted dolphin, December 14, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster. We did find three different groups of pantropical spotted dolphins today, and collected two samples for toxicology analyses to be undertaken by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

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Juvenile pantropical spotted dolphin, December 14, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster.

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A well-marked adult pantropical spotted dolphin, December 14, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster.

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Flying fish, December 14, 2010, photo by Daniel Webster.

December 13th update

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Striped dolphins off Kona, December 13, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird. Today we encountered our 10th species of odontocete for the trip, a group of about 15 striped dolphins. Striped dolphins are typically found only in deep offshore waters in Hawai‘i, typically deeper than ~3,000 m. For more information about striped dolphins in Hawai‘i see our web page for that species

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We also collected two squid found floating at the surface, probably brought up to the surface by deep-diving predators such as beaked whales or pilot whales. These squid will be sent to Bill Walker at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory for identification, and samples will be archived for genetic and stable isotope studies.

December 12th update

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Juvenile bottlenose dolphin off Kona, December 12, 2010. Photo by Mark Malleson.

Today was our 7th day on the water for this trip, and we encountered our 8th and 9th species of odontocetes for the trip. Shortly after leaving Honokohau Harbor we encountered a pair of bottlenose dolphins. We then headed north trying to catch up with our satellite-tagged false killer whales (we had locations west of Kawaihae at ~6:00 hrs), but they had moved out of our range.

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Adult bottlenose dolphin, December 12, 2010. Photo by Jessica Aschettino. For more information on bottlenose dolphins in Hawai‘i see our web page for that species

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Adult male short-finned pilot whale, December 12, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird.

Short-finned pilot whales are the most-frequently encountered species of odontocete in our work, representing almost 25% of all odontocete sightings. Yet today was our first encounter with this species this trip – on our way back we encountered a group of seven individuals, were able to photo-identify all of them, and we deployed a satellite tag on one individual to track movements. For more information on short-finned pilot whales in Hawai‘i see our web page for that species

December 11th update

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False killer whale with ‘ono, December 11, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster.

Today we encountered a group of false killer whales from the Hawaiian insular population. The whales were spread over an area of at least 4 kilometers by 10 kilometers, and we counted about 26 individuals. We were able to photo-identify almost all of the individuals present, and also deployed four satellite tags, including two location/dive tags.

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A false killer whale, showing the protruding melon characteristic of adult males. Photo by Robin Baird. This individual is HIPc204 in our photo-ID catalog, first documented in our research in 2004.

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False killer whale trying to stun a mahimahi. Photo by Robin Baird. During the encounter we observed predation on at least seven different fish, including three mahimahi. One of the predation events was quite prolonged, with the whales spending time apparently trying to stun the fish before eating them.

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Fasle killer whale taillobbing to try to stun a mahimahi. Photo by Robin Baird. For more information on false killer whales in Hawai‘i see our web page for that species

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We also had a juvenile red-footed booby land on our boat. Photo by Robin Baird.

December 10th update

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A large storm system is moving through the islands, and although we are only on the edge of the system we are staying on land for a while to see where it moves.

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Meanwhile the sperm whale tagged on December 8th has moved south of our study area. The two satellite-tagged Cuvier’s beaked whales remain off the southwest side of the island. Yesterday we had no cetacean sightings, despite 100 kilometers on the water.

December 8th update

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Sperm whale fluking, December 8, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird. Today we encountered a group of about 16 sperm whales offshore of Kona, comprised of females, juveniles and calves. We were able to get identification photos of several individuals in the group, three skin samples for genetic studies, and also deployed a satellite tag on one individual to track movements.

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Sperm whale fluke, showing the distinctive markings on the trailing edge of the flukes used to identify individuals. Photo by Jessica Aschettino. The fluke photos we obtained will be sent to the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, for addition to their sperm whale photo-identification catalog.

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A very cooperative sperm whale next to our boat, December 8, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird. For more information on sperm whales in Hawai‘i see our web page for that species

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A close up of the dorsal fin of one of the individual sperm whales, with cyamid lice. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

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Close-up of the nose of a sperm whale, December 8, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird.

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A very well-marked dwarf sperm whale, December 8, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird. We also encountered a group of four dwarf sperm whales, and were able to get identification photos of two of the individuals for comparison to our photo-ID catalog. For more information on dwarf sperm whales in Hawai’i see our web page for that species

December 7th update

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Adult female Cuvier’s beaked whale surfacing, December 7. Photo by Renee Albertson.

A good day on the water. Today we encountered a group of three Cuvier’s beaked whales. We were able to get good identification photos of all three individuals, we deployed two satellite tags, and obtained one genetic sample.

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This individual, HIZc052 in our photo-ID catalog, has previously been documented off the island in four different years – 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. Photo by Annie Douglas. There is a small resident population of Cuvier’s beaked whales off the island – we have been able to estimate the size of the population using photo-identification at only about 52 individuals. For more information on Cuvier’s beaked whales see our beaked whale web page

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Cuvier’s beaked whale with satellite tag on dorsal fin. Photo by Annie Douglas.

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We also encountered two hammerhead sharks, and four groups of spotted dolphins. Photo by Daniel Webster.

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Jellyfish, December 7, 2010. Photo by Annie Douglas.

December 6th update

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Melon-headed whales, December 6, 2010. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

Today we encountered a group of melon-headed whales, estimated at 210 individuals. We were able to obtain photos for individual identification of almost half the individuals present. Jessica recognized many of the individuals in the group from her graduate work with this species – the group is part of the Hawai‘i Island resident population.

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This individual melon-headed whale, HIPe1585 in our catalog, was first documented off the island of Hawai‘i in April 1988. Interestingly you can see a large number of very faint scars from cookie-cutter shark bites visible on this individual.

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Melon-headed whales and humpback whale, December 6, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster. A number of the melon-headed whales were harassing a humpback whale, with the humpback “chuffing” when exhaling, something they typically do when agitated.

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Melon-headed whales showing the difference in head shape with age. The middle individual (on the left) is a juvenile, with a relatively pointed head, while the individual in the foreground is adult-sized, with a very rounded head.

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Melon-headed whale, December 6, 2010, photo by Jessica Aschettino. For more information on melon-headed whales in Hawai‘i see our web page for this species

December 5th update

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A Leach’s storm petrel off Kona, December 5, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster.

Today we covered 155 kilometers off the Kona coast, mostly in good sea conditions. We headed south in about 3000 meters of water, and north in about 1200 meters, but despite covering a wide area our only odontocete sighting was a large group of spinner dolphins, nearshore north of the harbor just before we headed in.

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Spinner dolphin spinning, to remove remora, December 5, 2010. Photo by Greg Schorr.

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An abnormally-pigmented spinner dolphin next to a normally-pigmented spinner dolphin, December 5, 2010. Photo by Annie Douglas.

December 4th update

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A graphical weather forecast for the island for December 5th. If the forecast is accurate (they rarely are), it should be a good day tomorrow. We leave from Honokohau Harbor, just north of the red dot on the west side of the island indicating Kailua-Kona.

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Five of the satellite tags deployed during our October O‘ahu field project are still transmitting, including four short-finned pilot whales, and one false killer whale. The false killer whale is the eastern-most of the whales shown in this map, possibly heading towards our study area off the big island. Movements are shown for about the last two days.

Photos on this page taken under NMFS Scientific Research Permits (Nos. 731-1774 and 774-1714). All photos are copyrighted and should not be used without permission.

Field log: O’ahu, Oct 2010

Cascadia Research is undertaking a field project off the island of O‘ahu from October 10-24, 2010. Although we’ve worked off all the main Hawaiian Islands, this is the first field project we’ve had off O‘ahu since 2003. Our primary goals for this project are to obtain information on movements and habitat use of a number of species of toothed whales through the deployment of satellite tags, but we will also be obtaining photos and biopsy samples (for toxicology and genetic studies) from most species of odontocetes we encounter. Species that we are hoping to satellite tag include false killer whales, short-finned pilot whales, melon-headed whales, pygmy killer whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales, and Blainville’s beaked whales.

The research team includes Greg Schorr, Daniel Webster, Jessica Aschettino and Robin Baird of Cascadia and a number of volunteers. This work is being funded by grants from the Naval Postgraduate School (funded by N45) and the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

For more information see our Hawai‘i odontocete research page

The most recent updates are at the top of the page

October 24, 2010

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Pygmy killer whale, October 24, 2010. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

Today was our last day on the water for this trip. We were on the water 14 of the last 15 days, and covered 1,501 kilometers of trackline off the south and southeast short of Oahu. We had 30 sightings of 10 species of odontocetes, collected 32 biopsy samples for genetics and toxicology studies, took 18,666 photos for individual photo-identification, and deployed 12 satellite tags. Today we encountered a different group of pygmy killer whales than the one we saw last week, and were able to photo-identify all 24 individuals present, and deploy a satellite tag to track movements.

Our next field project will start in just weeks (early December) off the island of Hawaii – check out our projects page for updates starting December 5th.

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Pygmy killer whale waving tail in air. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

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Pygmy killer whale mother and juvenile. Photo by Robin Baird.

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Pygmy killer whales adults, photo by Kelly Wright.

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Pygmy killer whale, showing the distinctive rounded flipper of this species. Photo by Robin Baird.

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Pygmy killer whales socializing, photo by Daniel Webster.

October 23, 2010

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Pantropical spotted dolphin with abrasions below the dorsal fin caused by one or more persistent remoras. Photo by Chuck Babbitt. We are not sure what caused the linear abrasions further forward on the body, although linear marks like this are often caused by propellor strikes.

Today our only cetacean sighting was a group of pantropical spotted dolphins. Several individuals had large remoras and were leaping repeatedly in an attempt to remove the remoras.

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Pantropical spotted dolphin leaping to try to get rid of a large remora. Photo by Greg Schorr.

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Pantropical spotted dolphin leaping, again, to try to get rid of a large remora. Photo by Daniel Webster. Persistent remora damage can be seen on the right side of this individual below the dorsal fin.

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Pantropical spotted dolphin calf with “neonatal folds”, the light vertical bands along the side of the body. Photo by Chuck Babbitt. Such light bands occur due to the folding of the fetus in utero, although this individual is probably several months old, given the evidence of healing of a likely cookie-cutter shark bite wound on the dorsal fin.

October 22, 2010

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A false killer whale with a crowned pufferfish, October 22, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird. This individual dropped the fish and another juvenile behind it grabbed the pufferfish, then later dropped it and we were able to collect the pufferfish to confirm the species.

Today we encountered our second group of false killer whales for the trip. We recognized many of the individuals from the resident (Hawai‘i insular) population, were able to photo-identify about 19 individuals, collected one biopsy sample for genetics and toxicology, and deployed two additional satellite tags, including one of the location/dive tags.

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False killer whale mother and calf, October 22, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird.

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Juvenile false killer whale tail lobbing, October 22, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster.

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Spinner dolphin, October 22, 2010. Photo by Jonas Webster.

We also encountered a group of spinner dolphins, our second group of this species this trip.

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Group of spinner dolphins bowriding, October 22, 2010. Photo by Jonas Webster.

October 20 and 21, 2010

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Pantropical spotted dolphin, October 20, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster.

In the last two days we encountered another group of Blainville’s beaked whales, several groups of spotted dolphins, and our 10th species of odontocete for the trip, a lone dwarf sperm whale (sadly no photos). Below are maps of movements of two of the species we’ve deployed satellite tags on this trip.

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Movements of two of the short-finned pilot whales satellite tagged during this project, as of October 21. One individual (85582 in the map) has moved 140-170 kilometers offshore since tagging on October 19th, while the other has remained close to the islands but has moved to the east off of Lana‘i.

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Movements of HIPc200, the false killer whale tagged off O‘ahu October 15th.

October 19, 2010

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A Blainville’s beaked whale south of O‘ahu, October 19, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster. The white oval scars on the body are healed scars from cookie-cutter shark bites, which are visible for up to about 10 years on this species.

Today was our 9th day on the water and we encountered our 9th species of odontocete for the trip, a group of three Blainville’s beaked whales. We were able to get identification photos of two of the three individuals but were not able to get close enough to deploy a satellite tag. From work off the island of Hawai‘i we know there is a resident population of this species off that island, but there have been no re-sightings of photo-identified individuals from any of the other islands, so we do not know if these are part of a resident population or an open-ocean population. For more information on Blainville’s beaked whales see our web page for this species

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Short-finned pilot whale spyhopping off O‘ahu, October 19, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster. We also encountered two groups of short-finned pilot whales about 35 kilometers offshore of the island, with more than 90 individuals.

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Adult male short-finned pilot whale with satellite tag, October 19, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird. We were able to photo-identify most of the individuals present and also deployed satellite tags on three individuals.

October 18, 2010

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Whale shark next to our boat off Waianae, October 18, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird. It took 55,000+ kilometers of trackline over the last 11 years for us to see our first whale shark. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another 11 years!

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Pygmy killer whale with satellite tag, October 18, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird. Today we re-located the group of pygmy killer whales we encountered last week, and were able to photo-identify all the individuals, obtain three biopsy samples, an acoustic recording, and deploy another satellite tag.

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A melon-headed whale off Waianae, October 18, 2010. Photo by Jessica Aschettino. We also sighted our 8th species of odontocete for the trip, a lone melon-headed whale. Normally melon-headed whales travel in groups of several hundred individuals so it was extremely unusual to find a lone individual. For more information on our melon-headed whales in Hawai‘i see our web page for this species.

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A very well-marked pantropical spotted dolphin, October 18, 2010. Photo by Lisa Schlender. The white linear marks on the dorsal fin are tooth rakes from another spotted dolphin. The complex swirl of white markings on the body are caused by the healing of cookie-cutter shark bites distorting the spotting pattern.

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Our tracklines from the last 8 days. Today’s trackline is highlighted – we covered 165 kilometers to the southwest of O‘ahu.

October 17, 2010

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A map showing the movements of the Pseudorca since it was satellite tagged on October 15. The 1000 meter depth contour is shown. The individual has been identified as HIPc200 in our catalog, first seen in December 2004 off the island of Hawai‘i (and seen again in September 2008 off the island of Hawai‘i). Today the group came back close to O‘ahu but moved past the area where we were able to work due to very rough seas off the south shore of O‘ahu.

October 16, 2010

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Short-finned pilot whales off Waianae, October 16, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster

The tagged Pseudorca from yesterday was about 75 kilometers offshore this morning so we surveyed closer to shore and found a dispersed group of about 47 pilot whales, and deployed two more satellite tags to track movements.

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A large subadult or small adult short-finned pilot whale off Waianae, October 16, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster

October 15, 2010

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False killer whales, October 15, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird.

A good day on the water. We encountered a group of pilot whales and were able to deploy a satellite tag on one individual. While with the pilot whales a group of false killer whales moved through in the opposite direction, and we left the pilot whales to work with the false killer whales. Although we haven’t yet looked at the photos we think this group is part of the resident “Hawai‘i insular” population of false killer whales.

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False killer whale, October 15, 2010. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

We were able to photo-identify about 26 individuals, make one acoustic recording, collect three biopsy samples for genetic and toxicology studies, and deploy one satellite/dive tag. In the past we have collected some short-term information on diving behavior of false killer whales from suction-cup attached time-depth recorders, but this tag (a Wildlife Computers Mk10a tag) will record and transmit information on diving behavior, as well as locations of the whale, for up to several months. For more information on false killer whales in Hawai‘i see our web page for this species.

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False killer whale, October 15, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster. This individual is missing the dorsal fin, likely lost through an interaction with fishing gear. We first documented this individual in May 2003, along with two other individuals with dorsal fin disfigurements from line interactions. We published a paper on these individuals and a comparison of such injuries in false killer whales and other species, available here

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False killer whale and mahimahi, October 15, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird.

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Mahimahi and wedge-tailed shearwater, October 15, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster. The mahimahi was in the air after being thrown there by a false killer whale.

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False killer whale with mahimahi, October 15, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster.

October 14, 2010

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Common bottlenose dolphin off Waianae, October 14. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

Our fourth day on the water and our fourth species for the trip, a group of about 18 bottlenose dolphins. We were able to get photo-IDs of most individuals and two biopsy samples from the group. From our earlier work on bottlenose dolphins off O‘ahu (in 2002 and 2003) we found no movements of individuals between O‘ahu and any of the other islands in Hawai‘i, indicating a resident population. For more information on bottlenose dolphins in Hawai‘i see our web page for this species.

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Bottlenose dolphin off Waianae, Photo by Daniel Webster.

October 13, 2010

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Pygmy killer whale off Waianae, October 13, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird.

Today we encountered one of our high priority species for the trip and one of the rarest species of oceanic dolphins in the world, pygmy killer whales. We were able to obtain photos of all 18 individuals in the group, which we will compare to our photo-identification catalog of this species to assess movements and population structure. Most of our photos are from encounters off the island of Hawaii (see our pygmy killer whale web page), although we have also encountered this species off Ni‘ihau and Lana‘i in the past. We were also able to deploy one satellite tag, and are hoping the tag will give us at least several weeks of movement information. We have satellite tagging data from two individual pygmy killer whales tagged off the island of Hawai‘i (in 2008 and 2009), both of which stayed closely associated with the island for the duration of tag attachment (10 and 22 days).

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Pygmy killer whale off Waianae, October 13, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird.

A little bit of background on pygmy killer whales. Pygmy killer whales were first discovered based on two skulls, one described in 1827 and the other in 1874. The species was then effectively lost to science until 1952. The first six times live individuals were documented in the wild are worth reporting. The first live individual known to be of this species was harpooned, off Taiji, Japan, and brought in for processing. Although the individual was quickly flensed almost all the parts were obtained and the external appearance was recreated and described, along with the skeleton. The common name pygmy killer whale was first proposed based on this specimen by Yamada (1954). The second time this species was documented alive in the wild, off Senegal in 1958, the individual was captured and killed. The third known at-sea sighting was of a group of 14 individuals off Japan in 1963 – in this case the entire group was captured and taken into captivity, where all died within 22 days. The fourth recorded at-sea sighting of this species, also in 1963, ended a bit better, when only one individual in the group was captured and taken into captivity, this time in Hawai‘i. The fifth record of a live animal was an individual captured and accidentally killed in a tuna purse seine off Costa Rica in 1967. In the spring of 1969 a live individual was harpooned off St. Vincent. Finally, later in 1969, a group was observed in the Indian Ocean with none of them being killed or captured.

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We also found two groups of spotted dolphins offshore and collected three biopsy samples, and observed a Kuahonu Crab (Portunus sanguinolentus) near one of the spotted dolphin groups, at the surface in about 1300 meters of water. This is the first time we’ve seen this species of crab. Photo by Daniel Webster.

October 12, 2010

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Today was spent dealing with one of the inevitable aspects of operating a boat, unexpected maintenance.

October 11, 2010

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Rough-toothed dolphin, October 11, 2010. Photo by Jessica Aschettino. This individual has several sets of tooth rake marks from interactions with other rough-toothed dolphins. Today we had another good encounter with rough-toothed dolphins – we were able to collect four additional biopsy samples as well as identification photos of about 20 individuals.

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Brown booby off Waianae, October 11, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster

October 10, 2010

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Rough-toothed dolphins off Waianae, October 10, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster.

Our first day on the water. Despite a forecast of 20 knot winds we were able to find relatively calm water off the Waianae coast for most of the morning, covering almost 90 kilometers of trackline, with two sightings of rough-toothed dolphins and two sightings of pantropical spotted dolphins. We were able to collect biopsy samples from four rough-toothed dolphins. These samples will be contributed to a study of rough-toothed dolphin population genetics being undertaken by Ph.D. student Renee Albertson at Oregon State University as well as to a study of toxicology by M.Sc. student Kerry Foltz at Hawai‘i Pacific University.

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Rough-toothed dolphins off Waianae, October 10, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird. We were also able to obtain identification photos from about 20 individual rough-toothed dolphins which will be contributed to our catalog for this species. From comparisons of photos taken off Kaua‘i and the island of Hawai‘i we have evidence there is little or no interchange between the two areas within the main Hawaiian Islands (see a recent publication and more information on rough-toothed dolphins in Hawai‘i here). These photos will help assess potential boundaries between the two areas.

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Pantropical spotted dolphin, October 10, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster. This individual has a recent wound from a cookie-cutter shark on the back.

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Pantropical spotted dolphin with a cookie-cutter shark bite wound on the head, October 10, 2010. Photo by Daniel Webster. We also collected two biopsy samples from spotted dolphins today, which will be used both for toxicology and genetic studies.

October 9, 2010

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A wind vector forecast map for October 10, 2010, for 0800 HST, from the Haleakala Weather Center

The 27′ Whaler we use for our work off the big island was shipped over to O‘ahu and is now at the dock at Ko‘olina Marina, located at the south end of the Waianae (SW) coast of O‘ahu. Tomorrow we start the project at sunrise.

Photos on this page taken under NMFS Scientific Research Permits (Nos. 731-1774 and 774-1714). All photos are copyrighted and should not be used without permission.

Field log: Hawai’i, Jul/Aug 2010

Cascadia Research and the Wild Whale Research Foundation are undertaking a joint field project off the island of Hawai‘i in July and August, 2010. The research team includes Jessica Aschettino and Robin Baird of Cascadia, Dan McSweeney of the Wild Whale Research Foundation, and a number of volunteers. Our primary goals for this project are to obtain photos and genetic samples from the resident (“insular”) population of false killer whales and the resident population of melon-headed whales, but we will also be working with other species of odontocetes we encounter, photo-identifying individuals and collecting samples for genetics and toxicology studies.

For more information see our Hawai‘i odontocete research page

The most recent updates are at the top of the page

End of project update

August 21st was our last day on the water for this project. Since we started on July 17th we spent 30 days on the water, covering 3,296 kilometers of trackline, and had 78 sightings of 12 species of odontocetes. We took over 45,000 photos (including photogrammetry photos of about 180 individuals of 7 species), collected 33 biopsy samples, 3 prey samples (from false killer whales), 5 squid, 2 sloughed skin samples, 1 mucous sample, and acoustic recordings from both melon-headed whales and false killer whales. A good month. We’ll be back in the field in October, with a project off the island of O‘ahu.

August 19th update

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An adult female Cuvier’s beaked whale, August 19, 2010. Photo by Jessica Aschettino. We are able to identify this individual as an adult based on the large number of white oval scars caused by cookie-cutter shark bites (note the one fresh bite that is still red), which accumulate slowly over the years. Based on our photo-identification work these scars remain visible for 10 years or more (see our beaked whale page for more information). If this was a male erupted teeth would be visible at the tip of the lower jaw.

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An adult female Cuvier’s beaked whale, August 19, 2010. Photo by Dan McSweeney. We use the cookie-cutter scars, dorsal fin shape, and linear scars (from interacting with males) to identify individuals. This individual is HIZc018 in our catalog, first identified off the island on September 27, 2002. On that date we tagged this individual with a suction-cup attached VHF tag and tracked her for 7 hours, the first time a Cuvier’s beaked whale had ever been tagged, documenting the extremely long dives (her longest was 87 minutes).

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Two pygmy killer whales, August 19, 2010. Photo by Elisa Weiss. A new species for the trip, the 12th species of odontocete we’ve seen. Pygmy killer whales look very similar to melon-headed whales but can be distinguished by the clear demarcation between the darker dorsal cape and the lighter lateral pigmentation. Today we had two encounters with pygmy killer whales, and photo-identified 31 distinctive individuals. There is a small resident population of pygmy killer whales off the island and we recognize many of the individuals present today (including one first documented by Dan McSweeney on January 31, 1986). Pygmy killer whales are one of the least known species of delphinids in the world, and more is known of this species in Hawaii than anywhere else. For more information see our pygmy killer whale page.

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Pygmy killer whale rolling at surface, August 19, 2010. Photo by Dan McSweeney. The rounded tips to the flippers can also be used to distinguish pygmy killer whales from melon-headed whales.

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Pygmy killer whale with a recent wound from a cookie-cutter shark bite, August 19, 2010. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

August 18th update

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Melon-headed whale mother and infant off Kona, August 18, 2010. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

Our second encounter with melon-headed whales for this trip, a group of about 190 individuals from the Hawaii-island resident population. We were able to obtain idntification photos of about 150 individuals and biopsy samples from 8 individuals for genetics and toxicology.

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Melon-headed whale with possible shark bite wound, August 18, 2010. Photo by Dan McSweeney.

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Melon-headed whale leaping, August 18, 2010. Photo by Elisa Weiss

August 16th update

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False killer whale mother and infant, August 16, 2010. Photo by Dan McSweeney.

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False killer whales and a fish, August 16, 2010. photo by Elisa Weiss.

August 14th update

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An adult male false killer whale leaping August 14, 2010. False killer whales are sexually dimorphic (males are larger than females), but adult males can also be identified based on an extended overhang of the upper jaw, as in this individual. Photo by Dan McSweeney. The darker black spots on the head and behind the head are healed scars from cookie-cutter shark bites.

In 11 years of working in Hawai‘i on average we’ve encountered false killer whales once every 15 days of working on the water. In the last 25 days on the water we’ve encountered false killer whales on five occasions, including today. Another group from the resident (insular) population. We were able to photo-identify 25 to 30 individuals out of a group of about 35 and collect additional samples for genetics and toxicology.

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False killer whale with mahimahi, August 14, 2010. Photo by Jessica Aschettino. We documented five feeding occasions,including one mahimahi, one ahi (yellowfin tuna), one probable skipjack tuna, and two other unknown fish.

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Fish part (air bladder and gills) left behind foraging false killer whales. Photo by Jessica Ashettino. We collect prey parts so they can be identified to species other based on morphology or genetically.

August 11th update

Over the last five days we’ve had a distant sighting of a new species for the trip, Cuvier’s beaked whales, as well as another sighting of Blainville’s beaked whales and a number of sightings of pilot whales and rough-toothed dolphins. Today we encountered another group of false killer whales from the resident population, and were able to obtain photo-IDs of at least 20 individuals and samples for genetic/pollutant studies from 7 individuals.

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False killer whale with mahimahi, August 11, 2010. Photo by Dan McSweeney.

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False killer whale, August 11, 2010. Photo by Jessica Aschettino. Note the two green dots on the base of the dorsal fin (first dot near the leading edge) – these green laser dots are 15 cm apart and we are using them to assess sexual dimorphism in false killer whales and other species.

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False killer whale leaping, August 11, 2010. Photo by Elisa Weiss.

August 6th update

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False killer whale leaping, August 6, 2010. Photo by Elisa Weiss.

Another good day on the water, with encounters with five species including a group of about 20 false killer whales, including at least some from the group seen the day before.

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Mahimahi seen during false killer whale encounter, August 6, 2010. Photo by Elisa Weiss.

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Rough-toothed dolphin (front) and false killer whale (back), August 6, 2010. Photo by Dan McSweeney. During the encounter with the false killer whales rough-toothed dolphins and bottlenose dolphins were seen trying to pick up fish parts left behind by the whales.

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False killer whale with dorsal fin disfigurement, most likely caused by interaction with fishing gear. Photo by Dan McSweeney.

August 5th update

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False killer whale with remoras, August 5, 2010. Photo by Elisa Weiss.

A good day on the water, a group of about 35 false killer whales from the insular (resident) population traveling south off Kona. We took over 4,000 photos, collected two prey samples, and made two acoustic recordings. The group was left off Kauna Point heading towards South Point.

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False killer whale with recent shark bite wound and a long-term injury to the dorsal fin, August 5, 2010. Photo by Dan McSweeney. This individual is HIPc127 in our catalog, first documented off Maui in March 2000 (with the bent dorsal fin), and seen several times since both off Maui and the island of Hawai‘i. The shark bite wound behind the dorsal fin is the first time we’ve documented evidence of an attack by a large shark on a false killer whale in Hawai‘i.

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False killer whale carrying fish. Photo by Elisa Weiss.

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Wedge-tailed shearwaters scavenging fish left behind by foraging false killer whales. Photo by Cynthia Hankins.

August 1st update

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A dwarf sperm whale mother and calf, August 1st. Photo by Elisa Weiss.

On the water two of the last three days, with sightings of two groups of bottlenose dolphins (one of about 20 individuals), two groups of spotted dolphins, one group of short-finned pilot whales, and our second encounter with dwarf sperm whales for the trip. This was a group of between 5 and 7 individuals, at least three of which were distinctive and the photos have been added to our catalog. There is a small resident population of dwarf sperm whales off the island (see our dwarf sperm whale page for more infomation). None of the three distinctive individuals matched individuals in our catalog but sightings are infrequent and individuals acquire new marks regularly so it is possible one or more may already be in the catalog but are no longer recognizable.

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A very distinctive dwarf sperm whale, August 1st. Photo by Jessica Aschettino. Note the uneven (blotchy) skin coloration, likely caused by the whale sloughing skin regularly, as also seen in sperm whales.

July 29th update

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A rough-toothed dolphin, July 29th. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

Six encounters today including three groups of short-finned pilot whales, a group of spotted dolphins, and two groups of rough-toothed dolphins, our 10th species for the trip. Individual identification photos will be added to our catalog for this species. For more information see our rough-toothed dolphin page.

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A group of rough-toothed dolphins surfacing synchronously, July 29th. Photo by Dan McSweeney.

July 28th update

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A false killer whale juvenile off the island of Hawai‘i, July 28th. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

On our 11th day on the water for this trip we encountered our first group of false killer whales. Photos of six individuals taken through our catalog by Annie Gorgone revealed that all six have been seen multiple times around the main Hawaiian Islands, one as early as 1988, all part of the resident (“insular”) population. As well as identification photos we were able to obtain biopsy samples of three individuals which will be used for studies of population structure and toxin levels. For more information on this species or our work with false killer whales see our false killer whale page.

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A false killer whale with an unusual scar behind the head. Photo by Dan McSweeney.

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A well-marked false killer whale, HIPc120 in our catalog. This individual, an adult female first recorded with a calf in 1999, has been documented 17 previous times in nine different years, off the islands of O‘ahu, Maui and Hawai‘i. HIPc120 was last recorded off O‘ahu in October 2009 during a project being undertaken by the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. Photo by Cynthia Hankins.

July 27th update

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A Blainville’s beaked whale. Photo by Cynthia Hankins. We know this individual is an adult based on the large number of oval white scars (healed bites from cookie-cutter sharks) and can identify it as a female based on the lack of erupted teeth in the lower jaw. The light brown coloration on the side of the head and beak are probably diatoms.

A good day on the water today, encounters with pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins, and our 8th species for the trip, a group of four Blainville’s beaked whales, including two adult females, a juvenile, and an adult male. We were able to obtain good identification photos of all four individuals and one biopsy sample; so far we have been able to match three of the four individuals back to our catalog. One of the adult females was seen previously in 2005, the other was seen four times in 2008. The juvenile had been documented five times in 2007 and 2008. All are part of the population that is resident to the island of Hawai‘i. For more information see our beaked whale page.

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Two Blainville’s beaked whales. Photo by Dan McSweeney.

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An adult male Blainville’s beaked whales. Photo by Jessica Aschettino. This individual can be identified as an adult male based on the large number of linear scars (caused by fighting with other adult males). One of the erupted teeth are visible just above the water line.

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A short-finned pilot whale with some sort of white material streaming from the mouth. Photo by Cynthia Hankins.

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A close-up of the material streaming from the mouth of a short-finned pilot whale. Photo by Cynthia Hankins.

July 26th update

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Short-finned pilot whale with tooth rakes on dorsal fin, probably from an interaction with another pilot whale. Photo by Dan McSweeney taken July 26.

Encounters today with the two most commonly-encountered species of toothed whales off the island of Hawai‘i, short-finned pilot whales and pantropical spotted dolphins.

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Pantropical spotted dolphin mother and calf, July 26th. Photo by Cynthia Hankins.

July 24th update

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Short-finned pilot whales, July 24th. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

After eight days on the water we’ve had 22 on-effort sightings (and several off-effort sightings of spinner dolphins at the mouth of Honokohau and Kawaihae Harbors) of seven species: 9 groups of short-finned pilot whales, 4 groups each of bottlenose dolphins and pantropical spotted dolphins, and a single group each of sperm whales, dwarf sperm whales, melon-headed whales, spinner dolphins, and an unidentified dolphin. A good start to the project. Some additional photos below from July 23rd.

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Bottlenose dolphin, July 23rd. Photo by Cynthia Hankins

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Bottlenose dolphins, July 23rd. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

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Melon-headed whale mother and newborn, July 23rd. Photo by Dan McSweeney. Note the vertical lines on the infant, termed “fetal folds”.

July 23rd update

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A melon-headed whale high-speed traveling. Photo by Jessica Aschettino. Note the dark facial “mask” and the diffuse demarcation between the darker grey saddle and lighter gray lateral pigmentation, both characteristic of melon-headed whales.

A good day on the water, seven sightings of four species including our 7th species for the trip, a group of about 175 melon-headed whales. This group is part of the resident population, that appears to live just off the west side of the island of Hawai‘i (see our melon-headed whale web page for more information on this population). We were able to collect seven biopsy samples for genetics and toxicology and also took ~2,600 photos to identify individuals.

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A melon-headed whale leaping. Note the pointed tips to the flippers and the pointed head when viewed from above. Photo by Robin Baird

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Two distinctive melon-headed whales. The individual on the right has a wound caused by a bite from a cookie-cutter shark. Photo by Dan McSweeney.

July 22nd update

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An adult dwarf sperm whale, July 22nd. Photo by Robin Baird.

Our 6th day on the water and we encountered our 6th species for the trip, a pair of dwarf sperm whales. We were able to get good photos of both individuals (one distinctive adult shown above and a juvenile) and also collected a skin sample from the adult for genetic studies. Later in the day we encountered two groups of pilot whales and also collected our fourth squid for the trip.

July 21st update

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Sperm whale mother and calf, July 21st. Photo by Robin Baird

Our 5th day on the water this trip and we encountered our 5th species, a group of about 15 sperm whales. The group contained one newborn individual and two calves probably less than a year of age. We were able to collect one sloughed skin sample and dorsal fin photos of most of the whales present. We also encountered two groups of pilot whales, two bottlenose dolphins, and collected our third squid for the trip.

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Sperm whale calf with remora. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

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Two adult female sized sperm whales, July 21st. Photo by Robin Baird. The closest individual has a large very distinctive scar in front of the fin that can be used to recognize this individual in the future.

July 20th update

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Short-finned pilot whale mother and newborn calf, July 20, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird.

After another windy day on the water out of Kawaihae yesterday (with one sighting of spotted dolphins and one sighting of bottlenose dolphins) we decided to move the boat back down to Honokohau Harbor. Today we had MUCH calmer seas, and although we only had two sightings (including one group of spotted dolphins) we had our first sighting of pilot whales for the trip, a group of about 55 individuals.

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Short-finned pilot whale spyhopping, July 20, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird. We also take spyhopping photos in order to look for scars on the mouthline that may be indicative of fishery interactions.

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Short-finned pilot whale with green dots from a laser photogrammetry system, July 20, 2010. Photo by Jessica Aschettino. We have started using a laser photogrammetry system (the two green dots visible on this whale are 15 cm apart) to measure the length and height of dorsal fins to assess sexual dimorphism in pilot whales and other species.

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Squid collected July 20, 2010. Photo by Robin Baird. We also collected two squid today, both found floating at the surface. These squid will go to Bill Walker at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory for identification and for genetic and stable isotope studies.

July 18th update

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Spinner dolphin with damaged dorsal fin. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

Our second day on the water looking for melon-headed whales and false killer whales. Today we saw spinner and pantropical spotted dolphins.

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Spinner dolphin. Photo by Karin Forney.

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Spinner dolphin spinning to get rid of a remora. Photo by Dan McSweeney.

July 17th update

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Pantropical spotted dolphin, July 17, 2010. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

Our first day on the water based out of Kawaihae since May 2003. Although the winds picked up early we encountered two species of cetaceans, a group of spinner dolphins close to the harbor and a group of pantropical spotted dolphins to the north.

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An adult pantropical spotted dolphin with a fresh bite from a cookie-cutter shark. Photo by Jessica Aschettino. Below the dorsal fin there are several areas where old cookie-cutter shark bite wounds have completely healed, and as they have healed the white spots on the edges of the bites appear to have been stretched inwards as the wound healed.

Photos on this page taken under NMFS Scientific Research Permits (Nos. 731-1774 and 774-1714). All photos are copyrighted and should not be used without permission.

Field Log: Hawai’i, Dec 2009

Cascadia Research will be undertaking a field project in Hawai‘i from December 8-21, 2009. This work is funded by a number of different sources: the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (with support from the U.S. Navy, N45), and the Alaska SeaLife Center/University of Alaska Fairbanks (with support from the Office of Naval Research). The research team includes Greg Schorr, Daniel Webster and Robin Baird of Cascadia, Dan McSweeney of the Wild Whale Research Foundation, Russ Andrews of the Alaska SeaLife Center/University of Alaska Fairbanks, and a number of volunteers. Our primary goals for this project are to examine movement patterns and habitat use of false killer whales and beaked whales (through the deployment of satellite tags), and to deploy physiological (ECG) tags on short-finned pilot whales.

Like all of our field projects, we also have a number of additional goals:

  • Collection of blubber samples from biopsies of false killer whales and short-finned pilot whales, for a collaborative study on persistent organic pollutants of these species, with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
  • Recover and re-deploy a High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package (HARP), used to monitor presence of cetaceans off Kona by recording species-specific sounds.
  • Collection of skin/blubber samples from biopsies and from suction-cups for examination of stock structure (in collaboration with Susan Chivers and Karen Martien of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and Sarah Courbis of Portland State University) and trophic ecology (in collaboration with Jason Turner of the University of Hawai‘i, Hilo)
  • Collection of fecal samples to examine diet (a collaborative project with Mike Ford of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Seattle)
  • Photo-identification of 10 species of odontocetes to examine residency/movements
  • Collection of survey and sighting data for examination of habitat use
  • Collecting dead cephalopods to assess potential prey of deep-diving odontocetes, in collaboration with Bill Walker at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory

For more information see our Hawai‘i odontocete research page

Most recent updates are at the top of the page.

December 21, 2009 update

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Juvenile Blainville’s beaked whale, December 21, 2009. Photo by Robin Baird.

 

Today was our last day on the water for this trip. We spent much of the day searching for a ECG/dive tag that we deployed on a pilot whale several days ago. These tags fall off after a period of time and float, and in order to obtain the data they need to be recovered. These tags contain a VHF transmitter allowing them to be tracked, although the transmitter can only be detected at distances of 10-15 kilometers from sea level. This tag fell off the whale north of our study area and is drifting offshore. We hope that it gets caught up in one of the eddys that form in the lee of the island and is brought back towards shore (this has happened several times in the past with suction-cup attached data-logging/VHF tags).

Despite the lack of success tracking down the missing tag, we had a good day regardless, finding a group of three Blainville’s beaked whales, and deploying a satellite tag on one individual in the group.

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Close up of the head of a juvenile Blainville’s beaked whale. Photo by Russ Andrews. The rows of paired black dots on the head of this individual are caused by the suckers on squid tentacles (squid are the main diet of beaked whales).

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Sperm whale travelling. Photo by Annie Douglas.

 

We also encountered our 11th species of odontocete for the trip shortly before sunset, a group of six sperm whales about 40 kilometers offshore of the harbor.

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Our tracklines for this trip. Today’s 238 kilometer trackline is highlighted in yellow, our route far to the north and west trying to locate the missing ECG/dive tag.

 

Although this is the end of our field project we are still receiving location information from the four satellite-tagged false killer whales (as well as three of the false killer whales satellite tagged in October!), as well as location and diving data from all five of the short-finned pilot whales tagged with satellite-depth tags.

Check back in April 2010 for updates from our next field project.

December 20, 2009 update

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Ten days of movements of one of the Pseudorca we satellite tagged on December 10th. This morning we went out in hopes of finding this group, but lightning storms associated with water spouts forced off off the water early.

 

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We were out long enough to collect another squid, our third for this strip. Photo by Annie Douglas.

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A Pomarine Jaeger, December 20, 2009. Photo by Annie Douglas.

 

December 19, 2009 update

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Pseudorca porpoising, December 19, 2009. Photo by Russ Andrews.

 

One of the two satellite-tagged false killer whales from yesterday remained in the area overnight and we were able to find it today,as well as about 12-13 other individuals. Most of the individuals we were able to photo-identify today were different from those seen yesterday, reflecting how spread out the groups (and sub-groups) typically are.

December 18, 2009 update

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Pseudorca high speed travelling, December 18. Photo by Annie Douglas.

 

Another good day on the water. After deploying the HARP (see below) and working with pilot whales for several hours we encountered our second group of false killer whales for the trip. We were able to deploy two additional satellite tags, collect five biopsy samples for genetics and pollutant analyses, and photo-identify close to 20 individuals.

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A Pseudorca with a disfigured dorsal fin, likely caused by interaction with fishing gear. December 18, 2009. Photo by Robin Baird.

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Three Pseudorca. Photo by Annie Douglas. Although not visible in this photo, these three individuals were sharing a mahimahi, passing the fish back and forth.

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Short-finned pilot whale spyhopping. Photo by Annie Douglas.

 

As well as the Pseudorca we encountered several groups of pilot whales and deployed one more satellite-dive tag, and also re-deployed the HARP (see below) to acoustically-monitor cetaceans off of Kona for the next four months.

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Deploying the High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package (HARP) December 18, 2009. Photo by Robin Baird.

December 17, 2009 update

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Pantropical spotted dolphins high-speed travelling, December 17. Photo by Robin Baird.

 

Today we had two groups of spotted dolphins and four groups of short-finned pilot whales. We deployed two additional satellite-depth tags on pilot whales as well as photo-identifying over 50 individual pilot whales.

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Short-finned pilot whale with satellite-dive tag, December 17. Photo by Daniel Webster.

 

December 16, 2009 update

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A rare sighting of a White-necked Petrel, December 16. Photo by Daniel Webster.

 

Today was a quiet day on the water. We covered ~140 km on the water, collected one squid and had some good sightings of petrels, but the only cetaceans seen were spinner dolphins, right off the mouth of Honokohau Harbor, where our boat is kept.

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Spinner dolphins December 16. Photo by Robin Baird.

 

December 15, 2009 update

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Two short-finned pilot whales, December 15, 2009. Photo by Annie Douglas.

 

One of our goals this project was to deploy new satellite tags that also collect and transmit detailed dive data – today we deployed two of these tags on short-finned pilot whales, on individuals in two different groups.

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Short-finned pilot whale. Photo by Jolanda Luksenburg. This individual, a large sub-adult male, has a fresh cookie-cutter shark bite wound just behind the eye.

 

Today we also recovered the HARP that we had deployed in October. Over the next two days Erin Oleson of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center will swap out the hard drives and batteries and we will then re-deploy the HARP to acoustically monitor cetaceans off the Kona coast.

December 14, 2009 update

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A dwarf sperm whale, December 14, 2009. Photo by Daniel Webster.

 

Our 7th day on the water and our 10th species of odontocete, a group of three dwarf sperm whales (Kogia sima). The individual above has a fresh wound from a cookie-cutter shark on the back, as well as scars visible from a number of healed cookie-cutter shark bites (the shallow depressions on the back in front of and behind the fresh bite). Most adult dwarf sperm whales in our photo-identification catalog are quite well marked (see below), suggesting that this individual is probably just a year or two old.

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A well-marked dwarf sperm whale, December 14, 2009. Photo by Daniel Webster.

 

December 13, 2009 update

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An adult male Cuvier’s beaked whale, December 13, 2009. Photo by Annie Douglas.

 

A good day (and trip) for beaked whales, today we sighted three different groups of Cuvier’s beaked whales, and obtained good identification photos of four different individuals. This brings the total number of beaked whale sightings for the trip to six, a beaked whale sighting rate that is about four times higher than our long-term average.

December 12, 2009 update

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Two Blainville’s beaked whales, December 12, 2009. Photo by Annie Douglas.

 

On our fifth day on the water we encountered our ninth species of odontocete for the trip, a group of three Blainville’s beaked whales, including an adult male (the individual in the foreground, above), a sub-adult (individual in the background, above), and an adult female. We were able to get good ID photos of all three individuals as well as two biopsy samples for genetic studies. These individuals are all part of a small island-associated population that is restricted largely to the west side of the island of Hawai‘i. The adult female is HIMd007 in our catalog, an individual first documented by Dan McSweeney off the island in 1997 and last documented in December 2008. For more infomation on Blainville’s beaked whales in Hawai‘i see our beaked whale page.

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A close-up of the head of an adult male Blainville’s beaked whale, December 12, 2009. Photo by Robin Baird. This individual has just broken the surface and has started to exhale. Only the tip of one of the two erupted teeth in the lower jaw is visible (the right-side tooth, with purple stalked barnacles attached to the inner side of the tooth). The tip of the left tooth is completely obscured by stalked barnacles. The males use these teeth for fighting with other males, resulting in the linear scars that cover the head and back of this individual.

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Blainville’s beaked whale tail-lobbing. Photo by Jolanda Luksenburg.

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An oceanic white-tip shark. Photo by Daniel Webster. This shark was one of two accompanying a group of short-finned pilot whales we encountered later in the day. It is quite common to see oceanic white-tip sharks following pilot whales and some other species of odontocetes in Hawaiian waters.

 

December 11, 2009 update

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A group of rough-toothed dolphins off Kona, December 11, 2009. Photo by Jolanda Luksenburg.

 

After four days on the water we have encountered eight species of odontocetes (toothed whales) – today alone we encountered five species – short-finned pilot whales, spinner dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, Cuvier’s beaked whales, and two groups of rough-toothed dolphins. We were able to photo-identify about 15 individual rough-toothed dolphins, as well as all of the ~31 pilot whale encountered.

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Two Cuvier’s beaked whales, December 11, 2009. Photo by Robin Baird. The close animal is an adult male, with the two erupted teeth visible at the tip of the lower jaw. We were able to photo-identify all three individuals were in this group as well as collect one biopsy sample for genetic, stable isotope and pollutant analyses.

 

December 10, 2009 update

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A Pseudorca mother and calf, December 10, 2009. Photo by Robin Baird. Note the very small remora on the lower jaw of the calf, directly below the eye.

 

A good day today. We finally encountered a group of false killer whales (aka Pseudorca) from the island-associated (insular) population. Pseudorca are our highest-priority species, but we only see them an average of every ~16 days on the water, so needless to say we were very excited about finding a group. Although we never did see the satellite-tagged individual that has been in the area (see map below), locations from that individual (accessed through the ARGOS website) helped us find this group far offshore of the Kona coast. We were able to collect five biopsy samples for genetics, pollutant and stable isotope analyses, an acoustic recording, photo-identifications of all 13 individuals encountered, and we also deployed two additional satellite tags to track movements.

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A Pseudorca with a disfigured dorsal fin, likely caused by interaction with fishing gear. Photo by Daniel Webster. This is one of four individuals in our photo-identification catalog with a disfigured dorsal fin – this population has a very high rate of individuals with dorsal fin disfigurements (for more information on this topic see a paper we published in 2005, available here).

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Pseudorca with a wound on the head from a cookie-cutter shark. These deep-water sharks are parasitic, taking bites out of various species of whales and dolphins (as well as large fish) without killing them.

 

December 9, 2009 update

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Melon-headed whales, December 9, 2009. Photo by Robin Baird. The very distinctive individual on the left is HIPe0657 in our photo-identification catalog, an adult female previously seen on five occasions (with thanks to Jessica Aschettino for identifying this individual).

 

Our second day on the water we headed north, in search of one our satellite tagged Pseudorca from October. Satellite locations from the night before showed that the whale had moved into our study area. Despite a long search (160 kilometers) we did not find the Pseudorca, but we did encounter a group of about 160 melon-headed whales. As well as photo-identifying many of the individuals we deployed one satellite tag, to track movements of this group.

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Map showing satellite locations for a tagged Pseudorca from the insular population, for 10 days ending December 9, 2009. The offshore extent of movements in the last 10 days reached 110 kilometers, along the eastern edge of Jaggar Seamount. We are hoping this whale will stay in the area so we are able to re-encounter the group this trip.

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Leaping common bottlenose dolphin, December 9, 2009. Photo by Kevin Weng. We also encountered our first group of common bottlenose dolphins for the trip and were able to photo-identify many individuals, as well as our first sighting of a group of pantropical spotted dolphins.

 

December 8, 2009 update

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Our first day on the water, and we encountered one of our high priority species, a Cuvier’s beaked whale (photo by Daniel Webster). This individual, an adult (based on the white coloration), and a male (based on the extensive linear scars, caused by fighting with other adult males). We’ve seen this individual (HIZc044 in our catalog) several times before, the last in December 2008.

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A White-tailed Tropicbird off Kona, December 8, 2009. Photo by Daniel Webster.

Photos on this page taken under NMFS Scientific Research Permits (Nos. 731-1774 and 774-1714). All photos are copyrighted and should not be used without permission.

Field log: Hawai’i, Oct 2009

Cascadia Research is involved in two field projects in Hawai‘i this October. Starting on October 2nd Cascadia Research biologist Daniel Webster joined a field project off O‘ahu working with researchers from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, for a 16-day effort. And from October 19-31 we will be undertaking research off the island of Hawai‘i (the “Big Island”). This work is being funded by the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (with support from the U.S. Navy). Off the island of Hawai‘i the research team includes Greg Schorr, Daniel Webster and Robin Baird of Cascadia, Dan McSweeney of the Wild Whale Research Foundation, Erin Oleson of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and a number of volunteers. Our primary goals for this project are to examine movement patterns and habitat use of false killer whales and beaked whales (through the deployment of satellite tags)

Like all of our field projects, we also have a number of additional goals:

  • Collection of blubber samples from biopsies of false killer whales and short-finned pilot whales, for a collaborative study on persistent organic pollutants of these species, with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
  • Recover and re-deploy a High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package (HARP), used to monitor presence of cetaceans off Kona by recording species-specific sounds.
  • Collection of skin/blubber samples from biopsies and from suction-cups for examination of stock structure (in collaboration with Susan Chivers and Karen Martien of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and Sarah Courbis of Portland State University) and trophic ecology (in collaboration with Jason Turner of the University of Hawai‘i, Hilo)
  • Collection of fecal samples to examine diet (a collaborative project with Mike Ford of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Seattle)
  • Photo-identification of 10 species of odontocetes to examine residency/movements
  • Collection of survey and sighting data for examination of habitat use
  • Collecting dead cephalopods to assess potential prey of deep-diving odontocetes, in collaboration with Bill Walker at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory

For more information see our Hawai‘i odontocete research page

Most recent updates are at the top of the page.

November 30 update

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We are still getting daily locations of three of the five Pseudorca tagged in October – the above map shows locations through the morning of November 30th for a two-day period. Our next project starts on December 8th – check our update page for that project for more information.

October 31 update

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A leaping Steno, October 31. Photo by Robin Baird.

Our last day on the water for this trip. In 13 days on the water we covered almost 1,800 kilometers and 39 sightings of 11 species of odontocetes (no baleen whales to be seen). On our last day we encountered our second group of rough-toothed dolphins (see above), our fifth group of bottlenose dolpins, our eighth group of pilot whales, and our 11th group of pantropical spotted dolphins. We collected a couple of additional biopsy samples, photo-Id’d all of the pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins and most of the rough-toothed dolphins, and also deployed on additional satellite/dive tag on a pilot whale.

We are still getting satellite locations from the Cuvier’s beaked whale and four of the Pseudorca and will post occassional maps of their movements here.

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Map showing movements of the four tagged Pseudorca and the one tagged Cuvier’s beaked whale (the southern-most individual) from the evening of October 30th through the morning of November 1st.

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A newborn pilot whale, October 31. Photo by Daniel Webster. The fetal folds can be seen on the side of this newborn, and the high out of the water surfacing is also characteristic of a newborn.

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Our final trackline for this field project, with today’s effort highlighted in yellow.

October 30 update

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A mother and newborn dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima), October 30. Photo by Robin Baird. When first seen the calf was separated from its mother by about 60 meters, was acting very uncoordinated in its surfacing and appeared to have a bent over dorsal fin, indicating it had probably just been born. The female, HIKs020 in our photo-identification catalog, has been previously documented in the area in 2004, 2006, and twice in 2008.

 

October 29 update

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A pair of rough-toothed dolphins leaping, October 29. Photo by Robin Baird.

Our 11th day on the water. Although the satellite tagged Pseudorca remained just outside of our study area for another day, we did encounter our 10th, and 11th, species of cetaceans for the trip. South of Miloli‘i we encountered a fairly large group (~26) of rough-toothed dolphins (locally known as Steno). We were able to photo-identify most of the individuals present, and also collected five biopsy samples for genetics and toxicology.

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A juvenile rough-toothed dolphin, October 29. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

 

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Our trackline from October 29 is highlighted in yellow.

 

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Based on photos on this page you might get the (mistaken) impression that all of our sightings are close up with cooperative animals, but the above photo (a distant beaked whale, photo by Jessica ASchettino) is typical of many of our sightings. For beaked whales we take photos at any distance, since many sightings are brief and with distant photos we are often able to confirm species.

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In this case with calm seas and the whales only diving for 10-20 minutes we were able to approach close enough to obtain good identification photos, but not close enough for satellite tagging. A Blainville’s beaked whale, October 29. Photo by Daniel Webster. This individual is an adult female, based on the number of white oval scars which accumulate with age (from cookie-cutter sharks), and the lack of erupted teeth in the lower jaw. The other individual present in this encounter was an adult male.

 

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Our fourth squid collected this trip, a large (~10 kg) squid collected October 29. Photo by Daniel Webster.

 

October 28 update

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One day of movements of four satellite tagged Pseudorca as of mid-day on October 28. The tagged Pseudorca close to the big island continues to enter our study area only late in the afternoon, and has been spending the day to the NE part of the island.

 

Today we encountered three groups of pantropical spotted dolphins and one group of common bottlenose dolphins, collected one squid (our third for the trip), and also had several very interesting sightings of seabirds (photos below).

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A pale morph Kermadec petrel off Kona, October 28 (with thanks to Pete Donaldson, Alvaro Jarmillo and Sophie Webb for species confirmation). Photo by Robin Baird. This is our first sighting of this species in Hawai‘i. For more information on this species go to the Birds of Hawai‘i page of the Bishop Museum.

 

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Another photo of Kermadec petrel off Kona, October 28. Photo by Robin Baird.

 

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Hawaiian petrel off Kona, October 28. Photo by Daniel Webster.

 

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A dark-phase Pomarine Jaeger harassing a Wedge-tailed Shearwater to steal prey, October 28. Photo by Daniel Webster. Thanks to Alvaro Jarmillo for species confirmation.

October 27 update

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Today we covered 140 kilometers of trackline making it out to about 45 kilometers offshore of the island, over waters about 5,000 m deep. A quiet day on the water, with two sightings of pantropical spotted dolphins. As has been the case over the last few days, the satellite tagged Pseudorca remained north of our study area until well after we were back into the harbor. The map above shows all our tracklines over the last nine days, with today’s trackline in yellow.

 

October 26 update

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A common bottlenose dolphin with a damaged dorsal fin. Photo by Greg Schorr. Our first sighting of this individual was in 2002.

 

Today we went far to the north in the hopes of finding the group of Pseudorca that have been around the north end of the island. While the tagged whale had come south into our study area in the early evening of October 25th, by the morning they were back to the northeast of the island. We did have a productive day of sightings, with four species: short-finned pilot whale, pantropical spotted dolphin, common bottlenose dolphin and dwarf sperm whale.

October 25 update

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A mother and calf short-finned pilot whale. Photo by Robin Baird.

Sadly Cuvier’s beaked whales are no longer our most frequently encountered species for the trip! Today we encountered a group of pantropical spotted dolphins and two groups of short-finned pilot whales. We deployed a satellite tag on one individual in each of the two groups of pilot whales. These satellite tags not only give location information but also record and transmit dive data, the first of these tags that we have deployed.

Meanwhile the closest satellite tagged Pseudorca remained out of our study area again today, but is still off the north end of the island, with the other Pseudorca groups off O‘ahu and Penguin Bank. The tagged Cuvier’s beaked whale and sperm whale continue to remain near South Point.

 

October 24 update

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A Black-winged Petrel, October 24. Photo by Daniel Webster.

 

Today we covered 182 kilometers over a broad area to the northwest of the island, as far as about 60 kilometers offshore. The closest satellite tagged Pseudorca remained to the northeast of the island throughout most of the day (only showing up to the south well after we were back at the harbor!). Although conditions were great (mainly Beaufort 1 and 2) we had no sightings of whales or dolphins today. Today we had our first sighting of a Hawaiian petrel and numerous sightings of Black-winged Petrels as well as Leach’s Storm Petrels. We are still getting multiple locations each day from all five tagged Pseudorca as well as the sperm whale and Cuvier’s beaked whale.

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A map showing movements of five satellite tagged Pseudorca, as of the morning of October 24th. This map shows the movements of two groups over 10 days and the third group (with just one individual) over 9 days. These locations have not yet gone through a ‘speed filter’ and post-processing of the locations from ARGOS, so exact locations may change slightly.

 

October 23 update

A good day on the water. We re-deployed the HARP this morning, and will recover it in mid-December on our next trip out. The HARP will be recording up to ~100 kHz continuously for the next two months.

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Re-deploying the HARP, October 23rd. Photo by Daniel Webster.

 

With two sightings today, our most frequently encountered species in the first five days of this field project is Cuvier’s beaked whale (with three sightings,compared to two for short-finned pilot whale and two for bottlenose dolphin). Sadly this trend is unlikely to continue for long.

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An adult male Cuvier’s beaked whale, October 23rd. Photo by Daniel Webster. This individual has been previously documented three times off the island of Hawai‘i in 2006, and was in a group of three (with two adult females, see below). Note the extensive linear scaring caused by interactions with other male Cuvier’s.

 

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Two adult female Cuvier’s beaked whales, October 23rd. Photo by Robin Baird. Both of these females have been documented numerous times in our study area, one in 2004, 2006, 2008, and earlier in 2009, and the other in 1991, 1994, 1995, and 2006. Although these individuals have numerous oval scars caused by cookie-cutter sharks, they lack the linear scars seen on adult males. For more information on Cuvier’s beaked whales see our beaked whale page.

 

October 22 update

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Two green sea turtles mating, October 22nd. Photo by Robin Baird. Green sea turtles nest primarily in the northwest Hawaiian Islands and it is quite unusual to see mating behavior off the island of Hawai‘i.

 

The closest tagged Pseudorca remained northeast of the island out of our range today, so we surveyed offshore to the west. Early in the day we encountered our eighth species of odontocete in four days, a group of pilot whales.

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Spyhopping pilot whale, October 22nd. Photo by Daniel Webster. This individual has a partially healed bite wound on the lower jaw from a cookie-cutter shark.

 

We also collected a large squid and enountered our ninth species for the trip, a Cuvier’s beaked whale.

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Squid collected October 22nd. Photo by Robin Baird.

 

October 21 update

Before leaving we checked the ARGOS satellite locations from our tagged Pseudorca – one had approached close to the island in the night and we headed north towards the earlier location.

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Two pygmy killer whales bowriding on our research vessel, October 21. Photo by Robin Baird.

 

A nice way to start our third day on the water, a group of three very friendly pygmy killer whales. The individual in the foreground is HIFa001 in our catalog, first documented off the island in the early 1980s and seen regularly since. These can be distinguished as pygmy killer whales, rather than melon-headed whales, by the clear demarcation between the dark dorsal cape and the lighter grey lateral pigmentation, as well as by the widely-spaced paired white scars. We received updated locations of the tagged Pseudorca from about 7 AM, located north of the north tip of the island, so continued to go north hoping the group was spread over a wide area or they turned south back into our study area.

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A group of melon-headed whales, October 21. Photo by Daniel Webster.

 

A few kilometers south of a windline we found a group of about 50 melon-headed whales, and were able to get identification photos of most or all individuals present. Updated satellite locations on the Pseudorca showed they had not turned south so we returned to south of the harbor where we recovered the HARP that had been deployed there several months earlier.

October 20 update

Today was our second day on the water. Our first day started with the usual minor boat problems, but we were able to cover over 120 kilometers off the west side of the island in fairly good sea conditions. The highlights of the day were the collection of our first squid sample and sightings of a South Polar Skua and a Black-winged Petrel. Cetaceans were sparse (only spinner dolphins off Honokohau Harbor).

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A bottlenose dolphin off Kona, October 20, 2009. Photo by Greg Schorr.

 

Our second day on the water was much more productive. We were checking the locations of one of our satellite tagged Pseudorca – at 2 AM it was west of Kaho‘olawe heading east (see map below) so if it continued to move quickly it might make it to Kona today.

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Map showing the movements of two satellite tagged Pseudorca from October 17 through the early morning of October 20th. The individual moving east was tagged October 17th off O‘ahu in the same group as the individual currently off Ni‘ihau.

 

Although we did not find the false killer whales, we encountered a group of bottlenose dolphins (see above) and pantropical spotted dolphins, and were able to get identification photos of most of the bottlenose dolphins. We encountered our fourth species of odontocete for the trip a few hours later in deeper water (~3000 m) offshore, a dwarf sperm whale.

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An adult dwarf sperm whale logging at the surface, October 20, 2009. Photo by Greg Schorr. We were able to re-locate this individual after a 16 minute long dive, and we collected a slough-skin sample from it. Dwarf sperm whales are typically too difficult to approach closely enough to biopsy, so being able to collect sloughed skin from this individual was quite exciting.

 

The highlight of the day was an encounter with about 11 sperm whales. We were able to collect two biopsy samples for genetic studies as well as studies of pollutants.

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Sperm whales off Kona, October 20, 2009. Photo by Daniel Webster. We were also able to deploy a satellite tag on one individual, the first time we’ve satellite tagged a sperm whale in Hawai‘i. We will post maps here of movements of this group.

 

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Sperm whale with satellite tag on the base of the dorsal fin. Photo by Robin Baird.

 

October 19 update

The O‘ahu field effort finished up on October 17th and was extremely productive, with additional sightings of melon-headed whales, short-finned pilot whales, rough-toothed dolphins and spinner dolphins, as well as sightings of striped dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, dwarf sperm whales, and Blainville’s beaked whales. As well as the false killer whale tagged October 5th they were able to deploy four more satellite tags on false killer whales, two in sub-groups associated with the first tagged false killer whale and two in a different group located 200 kilometers away at the time. This is the first time we have had satellite tags out on more than one group of false killer whales at a time so will allow us to get an idea of how variable group travel patterns are and how groups interact.

Today will be our first day on the water off Kona.

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Map showing movements of the satellite tagged false killer whale from October 8th through the morning of October 19th.

 

October 7 update

The false killer whale tagged off O‘ahu, October 5th, 2009 has moved to the west of Kaua‘i. All the false killer whales that we’ve previously satellite tagged have been off the island of Hawai‘i, and although one individual did move as far as Kaua‘i, this tag deployment should give us a much better idea of habitats of false killer whales in the western main Hawaiian Islands.

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Map showing movements of the satellite tagged false killer whale from October 5th through the morning of October 7th.

 

October 5 update

The first four days of field efforts off O‘ahu have been quite productive, with encounters with melon-headed whales, rough-toothed dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, spinner dolphins, short-finned pilot whales and, on October 5th, a group of false killer whales.

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False killer whales off O‘ahu, October 5th, 2009. Photo by Marie Hill/Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

 

This group is from the island-associated population of false killer whales. As well as two biopsy samples (for genetics and pollutant analyses), one satellite tag was deployed to examine movements.

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Melon-headed whale leaping off O‘ahu, October 2nd, 2009. Photo by Mark Deakos/Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

 

Photos on this page taken under NMFS Scientific Research Permits (Nos. 731-1774 and 774-1714). All photos are copyrighted and should not be used without permission.

Field log: Hawai’i, Dec 2008

For more information contact Robin W. Baird at rwbaird (at) cascadiaresearch.org or see our Hawai‘i odontocete research page

We will update this page every few days during the field project, with the most recent updates at the bottom of the page.

From December 1-16, 2008 we will be undertaking research in Hawai‘i, based off the island of Hawai‘i (the “Big Island”). This trip is being funded by the Southwest Fisheries Science Center of NOAA Fisheries (with the support of the U.S. Navy, N45) and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The research team includes Greg Schorr and Robin Baird of Cascadia, Dan McSweeney of the Wild Whale Research Foundation, Daniel Webster of Bridger Consulting, Russ Andrews of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and a number of volunteers. Our primary goals for this project are to examine movement patterns Cuvier’s and Blainville’s beaked whales (through the deployment of satellite tags) and to recover the High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package (HARP) we deployed in July, download the data and re-deploy it, to continue acoustic monitoring for cetaceans off the west coast of the island.

We have a number of additional goals:

  • To examine diving behavior and acoustics of a number of species, using suction-cup attached time-depth recorders.
  • Collection of blubber samples from biopsies of false killer whales and short-finned pilot whales, for a collaborative study on persistent organic pollutants of these species, with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
  • To examine movements of melon-headed whales and false killer whales through the deployment of satellite tags, with support from Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Dolphin Quest.
  • Collection of skin/blubber samples from biopsies and from suction-cups for examination of stock structure (in collaboration with Susan Chivers and Karen Martien of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and Sarah Courbis of Portland State University) and trophic ecology (in collaboration with Jason Turner of the University of Hawai‘i, Hilo)
  • Collection of fecal samples to examine diet (a collaborative project with Mike Ford of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Seattle)
  • Photo-identification of 10 species of odontocetes to examine residency/movements
  • Collection of survey and sighting data for examination of habitat use
  • Collecting dead cephalopods for trophic ecology studies

December 1, 2008 update

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Spotted dolphin leaping December 1, 2008. Photo by Greg Schorr.

Our first day on the water. While the species diversity today was low (just pantropical spotted dolphins), we were able to collect one biopsy sample for genetic studies and also collected a squid (found dead floating at the surface, to go to the National Marine Mammal Lab for identification.

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Spotted dolphin mother and calf, December 1, 2008. Photo by Greg Schorr.

December 2, 2008 update

A good second day on the water. As we left Honokohau Harbor we observed a group of spinner dolphins, a species that is often found in the area. We usually spend little time with spinners – this are our lowest-priority species, as numerous studies have been undertaken with spinner dolphins in Hawaiian waters over the last 30+ years and our time is better spent working with less frequently encountered species. Later in the morning we encountered a large group of pantropical spotted dolphins and collected another genetic sample, and later found another squid floating at the surface (this one being scavenged by two wedge-tailed shearwaters).

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We’ve also had some good seabird sightings the last two days – yesterday a phalarope and a Hawaiian petrel, today a Hawaiian petrel and several smaller petrels, including a black-winged petrel. Photo by Daniel Webster.

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A very well-marked adult female short-finned pilot whale off Kona, December 2, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird.

We also encountered a large group of short-finned pilot whales, and collected skin/blubber biopsies from an adult female and her approximately 2-year old calf, for analyses of persistent organic pollutants. The highlight of the day was a sighting of a lone adult male Cuvier’s beaked whale. This individual was first seen taillobbing about a kilometer away, and we were able to keep track of this individual over three surfacing series (separated by 22, 21 and 14 minutes). We deployed a satellite tag on this individual (the fourth Cuvier’s we’ve tagged in Hawai‘i), and are awaiting hits from the satellite.

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Adult male Cuvier’s beaked whale off Kona, December 2, 2008. Photo by Daniel Webster. Sabre Mahaffy was able to match photos to our catalog of this species. We’ve seen this individual, HIZc044 in the catalog, on two previous occasions, in November 2006 and in May 2008. The linear scars on this individual are caused by fights with other male Cuvier’s beaked whales (only the males have erupted teeth), while the numerous oval scars/indentations are caused by cookie-cutter sharks.

December 3, 2008 update

Another good day on the water, with an encounter with ~20 bottlenose dolphins, a group of four dwarf sperm whales, and a sighting of a black-footed albatross. Photos to follow soon.

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An adult female dwarf sperm whale with calf logging at the surface, December 3, 2008. Photo by Dan McSweeney. These two were part of a group of four dwarf sperm whales observed and followed for 30 minutes. When calves are present dwarf sperm whales typically dive for 7 to 8 minutes at a time, so we were able to re-sight these individuals for a number of surfacings, where they typically just log motionless at the surface. We were able to obtain photos of all four individuals, two of which were quite distinctive. A quick comparison to our photo-identification catalog for this species revealed no matches, although we do have a high re-sighting rate for this species off Kona, indicating a small population size of resident animals.

December 4, 2008 update

Although our surveys are focused on whales and dolphins we frequently observe relatively uncommon species of seabirds, and record all seabird sightings to pass on to the Hawai’i birding community. Although the numbers of birds seen in the last four days have been low, the diversity has been high.

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A laughing gull off Kona, December 4. Photo by Robin Baird. Gulls are uncommon around the Hawaiian Islands. Laughing gulls, like this first winter bird, are one of the gull species most frequently seen around the Hawaiian Islands.

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Despite the gray plumage, this is a red phalarope (in Europe they are called “grey phalaropes”). Photo by Daniel Webster. These shorebirds breed on the arctic tundra and spend the winter at sea. Adults in breeding plumage do have red plumage, but birds in non-breeding plumage, like this one, are much duller.

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A leaping rough-toothed dolphin, December 4, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird. Note the large number of remoras (nine visible) on this dolphin. This dolphin was leaping repeatedly, presumably to try to remove the remoras.

December 6, 2008 update

Sighting rates this trip have been a bit lower our long-term average. In six days we’ve had only 16 sightings, but those have been of nine different species of odontocetes. On December 6 we had two new species for the trip, a dispersed group of sperm whales, and a group of pygmy killer whales.

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A sperm whale fluking off Kona, December 6, 2008. Photo by Russ Andrews. This group of sperm whales was found in deep water (>3,000 m) far (21 km) offshore. We observed six individuals (adult females and sub-adults) spread out over several kilometers, but it is possible more individuals in the area. We were able to obtain good identification photos of two individuals (the undersides of the tailflukes) and skin samples from both – sloughed skin found in the water after their dives. Sperm whales are not common around the main Hawaiian Islands, in our efforts over nine years (450 days on the water) we’ve only seen this species on 25 occasions. Photos from this encounter will be contributed to a photo-identification catalog for this species at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center.

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Two pygmy killer whales off Kona. Photo by Robin Baird. Although photo-identification evidence indicates that pygmy killer whales are resident to the area, we see this species only very infrequently – this sighting was only our 13th in nine years of working in Hawai’i. With such infrequent sightings learning anything about this poorly-known species is a slow process, but we have always prioritized efforts based on the inverse of sighting frequency – we spend the most time working with the least frequently-encountered species, to take advantage of these rare opportunities to learn more about such species. With this group of pygmy killer whales, we photo-identified every individual present (~12), made three acoustic recordings of the group, collected one biopsy sample for genetic, trophic ecology and pollutant analyses, and were able to deploy two satellite tags, the first satellite tags that have been deployed on this species. Nothing is known about movements of pygmy killer whales, so if these tags remain attached and functioning we will obtain the first movement information for this species.

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Two pygmy killer whales socializing. Photo by Daniel Webster. The rounded pectoral fin, characteristic of pygmy killer whales (and one way of discriminating them from melon-headed whales) is clearly visible.

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A pygmy killer whale calf with shark bite wounds. Photo by Dan McSweeney. The mother of this calf, HIFa009 in our catalog, has been documented on eight different occasions off Kona since 2003.

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Another view of the pygmy killer whale calf with shark bite wounds. Photo by Robin Baird.

December 8, 2008 update

After eight days on the water we’ve now had 25 sightings of 10 different species of odontocetes, as well as one distant sighting of a humpback whale. Yesterday we re-located the group of pygmy killer whales seen the day before (including one of the two satellite tagged individuals) – they had moved just 30 kilometers in the almost 24 hours since tagging. As well as obtaining another acoustic recording of this group we were able to photo-identify all the individuals present.

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Satellite tagged pygmy killer whale with companions, December 7, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird.

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Our 10th species of odontocete for this trip, a group of striped dolphins. Photo by Daniel Webster. This is our 20th sighting of striped dolphins from Hawaiian waters. This species is typically seen only in very deep water (usually >3,000 m), and almost always avoids boats. We frequently see them when surveying in waters >3,000 m so it is possible there is a resident population, but we have never been able to obtain biopsy samples for genetic analyses and few photographs that could be used to identify individuals to assess re-sightings.

December 10, 2008 update

On December 10th we recovered the High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package (HARP) deployed in July of this year. This system has been in place (in about 650 m of water) recording for five minutes out of every 15 minutes, and will be used by researcher Erin Oleson (of Scripps and the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center) to examine cetacean use of the area.

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Leaping melon-headed whale, December 10, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird.

After 10 days on the water we’ve now encountered 12 species of odontocetes. December 10th was our longest day yet, covering over 170 kilometers of trackline and arriving back at the harbor half an hour after sunset. Sea conditions were very good to the north (an area often unworkable due to the trade winds) so we were able to survey more than 50 kilometers north of the harbor. At our furthest point north we encountered a group of over 300 melon-headed whales (the 11th species for the trip). This species is one of our favorites to work with – during the day they spend most of their time resting and socializing near the surface, are typically found in very large groups (the largest we’ve encountered was ~800 individuals), and they are extremely interested in boats (when we increase speed we can often attract 20 or 30 individuals over to bowride). Since so little is known about this species anywhere in the world the few encounters we have (this was our 31st encounter in nine years) have the potential to greatly increase our understanding of this species. During this encounter we collected 7 biopsy samples, primarily for toxicology but also for genetic analyses, ~2,700 photos for photo-identification (graduate student Jessica Aschettino at Hawai’i Pacific University is working on her Masters degree working with our melon-headed whale photo-identification catalog), deployed three satellite tags to examine movements, and made several recordings, in part for comparison with recordings obtained from the HARP.

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Floating squid collected December 10. Photo by Daniel Webster.

We also collected our fourth squid for the project, all to go to Bill Walker at NMML for species identification. Since many of the species we collect are not vertically migrating, they are likely brought up to the surface by foraging whales and accidentally left where we can sample them.

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Wedge-tailed shearwater feeding on fish, found behind a group of pilot whales. Photo by Daniel Webster. Most of the squid (and fish) we collect are cued by birds feeding on them.

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Fish (probably a codling) found behind a group of pilot whales. Photo by Daniel Webster. Based on the body shape and large eye this is likely a benthopelagic species.

Sixteen kilometers after we left the first group of melon-headed whales, we encountered a second group, this one containing over 500 individuals. Due to time constraints we only obtained ~700 photos of individuals in this group, but made another recording and obtained an additional five biopsy samples. Still 17 km from the harbor and only an hour before sunset we encountered our 12th species of odontocete for the trip, a group of false killer whales.

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Mother and calf false killer whale, December 10, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird. Unfortunately this group was traveling rapidly north (away from the harbor), and we had to get back to drop off one of our crew at the airport for a flight back to the mainland, but we did have time to obtain ID photos of at least six of the nine individuals seen, and also deployed a satellite tag on one individual to examine movements. A long day on the water.

December 11, 2008 update

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We are on land today as a storm passes through. Radar image from http://radar.weather.gov/Conus/hawaii.php

December 14, 2008 update

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A black-winged petrel, December 13, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird.

Our second encounter with beaked whales this trip, this time two adult Cuvier’s beaked whales seen December 13, 2008. We were able to obtain identification photographs of both individuals, and both match to individuals already in our catalog.

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An adult female Cuvier’s beaked whale, December 13, 2008. Photo by Daniel Webster. This individual, HIZc050 in our catalog, has been documented twice previously, in December 2006 and October 2008. The white oval scars on this individual are caused by cookie-cutter sharks – these scars are the primary cues we use for identifying individual beaked whales – similar scars (and notches on the dorsal fin) are used to identify other species of whales. Such markings (albeit not caused by cookie-cutter sharks) can be used to identify many terrestrial mammals as well, including, we suspect, Uinta ground squirrels in Bozeman, Montana.

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December 14th was a good day for birds (and we saw one group of ~40 pilot whales). We had our first storm petrel sightings of the trip (three Leach’s storm petrels, photo by Daniel Webster), and approximately 16 other “gadfly” petrels, including a number of black-winged petrels and a possible white-necked petrel. Also seen were four sooty shearwaters, one female greater frigatebird, and about 24 wedge-tailed shearwaters.

Final update

December 16 was our last day on the water. We were on the water 14 of the last 16 days, and had 41 sightings of 12 species of odontocetes. On December 15 we re-deployed the HARP – this will be in place until February (recording continuously), when it will be recovered and re-deployed by Erin Oleson.

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Melon-headed whales, December 15. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

We had our best sighting day on the 15th, with seven encounters of six different species of odontocetes. Along with bottlenose, spotted, spinner and rough-toothed dolphins, we encountered short-finned pilot whales and another group of melon-headed whales (different from the group we deployed satellite tags on the previous week), and deployed one additional satellite tag on a melon-headed whale.

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An extremely distinctive melon-headed whale. Photo by Jessica Aschettino.

As of the 16th we have satellite tags out on three species off the island, one false killer whale, four melon-headed whales (in two different groups), and one pygmy killer whale – all have remained associated with the island since tagging, and we will be watching movements of these individuals hopefully over the 6 to 10 weeks. We were able to make good acoustic recordings of both pygmy killer whales and melon-headed whales, which will be extremely valuable in assessing the presence of both species in previous (and future) recordings from the HARP. We collected 40 genetic samples (several were sloughed skin), many of which will also be used for toxicology. We also collected four squid, one fish, and part of an another fish, the latter left behind by a group of rough-toothed dolphins, for assessing prey. We also took ~14,500 photographs, primarily for individual photo-identification, which will be used to continue to examine movements and site fidelity of the species encountered.

Our next trip to Hawai‘i should be in April 2008, check back then for future updates.

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Melon-headed whales. Photo by Daniel Webster.

Thanks to Peter Pyle, Mike Ord and Pete Donaldson for providing information on bird species seen.

All photos on this page taken under NMFS Scientific Research Permits (Nos. 731-1774 and 774-1714). All photos are copyrighted and should not be used without permission.

Field log: Hawai’i, Jun/Jul 2008

For more information contact Robin W. Baird at rwbaird (at) cascadiaresearch.org or see our Hawai‘i odontocete research page

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A map showing the satellite locations obtained from 33 satellite tags deployed on four different species of odontocetes during our June/July 2008 field project. As of September 11, 2008 the average duration of transmissions from these tags is 35 days, with a number of tags still transmitting. This field project involved deployment of more satellite tags on a diversity of species of cetaceans over a short period of time than any other study of cetaceans world-wide, providing simultaneous information on the movements of these four species in relation to the main Hawaiian Islands and potentially in relation to naval vessels involved in the RIMPAC ’08 exercise. Short-finned pilot whales – Red, False killer whales – Blue, Blainville’s beaked whales – Green, Melon-headed whales – Red & Black.

Regular updates from the field are below with the most recent updates at the bottom of the page.

From June 25 through July 28, 2008 we will be undertaking research in Hawai‘i, with the first week off the island of Kaua‘i and the last four weeks off the island of Hawai‘i (the “Big Island”). This trip is part of a larger project being funded by NOAA’s Ocean Acoustics Program (National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Science and Technology), and the U.S. Navy, with one of the primary purposes to examine potential impacts of mid-frequency active sonar on cetaceans during the RIMPAC naval exercise. There are a variety of collaborators on this project, including Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC), the Wild Whale Research Foundation, and Duke University. During this period we are also undertaking several side projects with funding and support and/or collaborations with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the University of Tokyo, Dolphin Quest, Portland State University, and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. The research team includes Greg Schorr, Annie Douglas and Robin Baird of Cascadia, Dan McSweeney of the Wild Whale Research Foundation, Daniel Webster of Bridger Consulting, Ethan Roth of Scripps, Mai Sakai of the University of Toyko, Darren Roberts of the University of Hawai‘i Hilo, Brad Hanson of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, and a number of volunteers. Our primary goal for this project is to examine movement patterns of short-finned pilot whales, melon-headed whales, false killer whales, and Cuvier’s and Blainville’s beaked whales (through the deployment of satellite tags) in relation to the RIMPAC naval exercise. For part of the period, researchers from Duke, WHOI, and PIFSC will be simultaneously surveying from the NOAA research vessel Oscar Elton Sette and attempting to deploy suction-cup attached acoustic tags on the same species.

We have a number of additional goals:

  • To examine diving behavior and acoustics of a number of species, using suction-cup attached time-depth recorders, acoustic tags, and/or tags with three-dimensional accelerometers.
  • To examine the overlap of the offshore and island-associated populations of false killer whales, with surveys offshore of the island of Hawai‘i on a larger charter vessel. This was a project we started on our last trip in April/May. See our updates from that project for more information.
  • Recovery of the HARP (High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package) we deployed in April this year, and re-deployment after downloading the acoustic data and replacing the batteries. This instrument is used to acoustically monitor cetacean presence off the west side of the island. In addition we’ll continue to survey in the area of the HARP to compare sightings of different species to acoustic detections. This is a collaborative effort with Erin Oleson at Scripps.
  • Collection of skin/blubber samples from biopsies and from suction-cups for examination of stock structure (in collaboration with Susan Chivers and Karen Martien of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and Sarah Courbis of Portland State University) and trophic ecology (in collaboration with Jason Turner of the University of Hawai‘i, Hilo)
  • Collection of microbial samples from the exhaled breath of pilot whales and other species (in collaboration with Andrea Bogomolni at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
  • Collection of fecal samples to examine diet (a collaborative project with Mike Ford of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Seattle)
  • Photo-identification of 10 species of odontocetes to examine residency/movements
  • Collection of survey and sighting data for examination of habitat use
  • Collecting dead cephalopods for trophic ecology studies

This will be our first trip back to Kaua‘i since November of 2005, and only the second time we’ve surveyed off the island of Hawai‘i in July.

June 25 update

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Rough-toothed dolphin off Ni‘ihau, June 25, 2008. Photo by Annie Douglas.

Our first day on the water for this trip. In our previous surveys off Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau (2003 and 2005) we covered ~4,600 km of survey trackline in 301 hours of effort. During those efforts rough-toothed dolphins were encountered frequently, but we had seen melon-headed whales only once (in 2003). Not surprisingly, our first sighting of the day was a small group of rough-toothed dolphins, and we were able to get ID photos of all the individuals present. Our second sighting of the day was a group of ~220 melon-headed whales in the channel between Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau! We were able to deploy satellite tags on two individuals in this group, and also took >2,000 photos for individual identification, to compare back to our photo-identification catalog for this species. Melon-headed whales are a high priority species for satellite tagging, given the near-stranding event in Hanalei Bay associated with the RIMPAC naval exercise in 2004. We are hoping the tags continue to transmit for a number of weeks to allow us to assess movements of this group to the upcoming RIMPAC exercise.

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Melon-headed whales off Ni‘ihau, June 25, 2008. Photo by Annie Douglas.

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Melon-headed whales off Ni‘ihau, June 25, 2008. Photo by Darren Roberts.

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Melon-headed whale off Ni‘ihau, June 25, 2008. Photo by Annie Douglas.

June 27 update

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Short-finned pilot whales off Kaua‘i, June 26, 2008. Photo by Annie Douglas

Yesterday (our second day) we encountered another high priority species for this trip, short-finned pilot whales. While we were able to photo-identify all the individuals in the group (~23), sea conditions were not optimal for tagging and we were not able to deploy any satellite tags. We had our second encounter with rough-toothed dolphins (mixed in with the pilot whales) and were able to photo-identify a few additional individuals.

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A piebald rough-toothed dolphin mid-channel between Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, June 27, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird.

Today we had two very good encounters with rough-toothed dolphins, photo-identifying all 12 in the first group and all 8 in the second group. Rough-toothed dolphins off Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau are extremely easy to work with compared to those off the big island, with individuals frequently bowriding, and showing no avoidance of the research vessel, unlike those off the big island.

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Newell’s shearwater mid-channel between Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, June 27, 2008. Photo by Daniel Webster.

Greater numbers of sea birds are also found off Kaua‘i compared to the big island, perhaps due to the lack of introduced mongoose on Kaua‘i allowing more species to breed. In the last three days we’ve had sightings of just two Hawaiian petrels, but numerous Newell’s shearwaters (a species we rarely see off the big island), wedge-tailed shearwaters, red-footed boobies, brown boobies, storm petrels (both Leach’s and possibly band-rumped), Bulwer’s petrels, greater frigatebirds, white-tailed and red-tailed tropicbirds, and a single gull (probably a Franklin’s gull).

June 30 update

The last few days have been dominated by sightings of small groups of rough-toothed dolphins (7 groups in the last 3 days!). Eleven of the 17 encounters we’ve had off Kaua‘i have been this species, an amazing number of sightings of a typically uncommon species. Besides the rough-toothed dolphins, yesterday (June 29) we encountered a group of ~300 melon-headed whales between Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau. With so many individuals spotting the individuals we satellite tagged a few days ago would have been difficult, to say the least. When we returned to shore we were able to check the ARGOS satellite web site and determined that this was a different group of melon-headed whales (the group we had satellite tagged on June 25 was approximately 60 km NW of Ni‘ihau at the same time we encountered this new group). We were able to deploy a satellite tag on one individual in this new group, so are now receiving locations from two groups of melon-headed whales in the area.

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Melon-headed whale breaching, June 29, 2008. Photo by Darren Roberts.

The sea conditions the last two days have been excellent (primarily Beaufort 1 and 2), allowing us to search far to the east and in deeper waters south of the channel between Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau. As well as several groups of rough-toothed dolphins, today we re-encountered the same group of melon-headed whales that we saw yesterday, and were able to get good photos of the individual we tagged yesterday. Tommorrow will be our last day working off Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau before heading to the big island, so we are hoping for another calm day.

July 2 update

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Very large adult male pilot whale off Kaua‘i, July 1, 2008. Photo by Annie Douglas.

Our last day off Kaua‘i was quite productive – we encountered our second group of pilot whales off Kaua‘i, and were able to deploy a satellite tag on an adult female. We had hoped to deploy a second tag on the group, but sea conditions quickly deteriorated and we lost the group in Beaufort 6 seas! All together we covered 819 km of trackline in our 7 days on the water, with 19 sightings of 4 species.

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Dwarf sperm whale off the big island, July 2, 2008. Photo by Dan McSweeney.

On July 2nd the Kaua‘i team flew over to the big island while others already on the big island went out for our first day there. Another productive day, with sightings of four species including our first dwarf sperm whale of the trip, a very well-marked individual. Amazingly enough we had another encounter with melon-headed whales. Prior to this trip our long-term average was one group of melon-headed whales every 16 days on the water (based on 413 days of effort!), so having four encounters (with three different groups) in our first 8 days on the water is quite surprising. Besides obtaining about 700 photos for identification purposes, we were also able to deploy two satellite tags on this group, bringing to three the number of groups of melon-headed whales we currently have satellite tags on. Needless to say this has been a good first week for the project!

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Melon-headed whale female with neonate off the big island, July 2, 2008. Photo by Dan McSweeney. Note the “neonatal folds” (the vertical lines) along the side of the infant, indicating it was probably born very recently.

July 5 update

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Pilot whale with satellite tag off the big island, July 5, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird.

The last three days we’ve had sightings of six groups of pilot whales off Kona, and have deployed satellite tags on individuals in five of them. We’ve also been getting locations from the last satellite tag we deployed on a pilot whale on our April/May trip (yesterday was day 52), so are obtaining information on the movements of six different groups of pilot whales around the big island. We’ve also had several sightings of spinner dolphins, another dwarf sperm whale, and two sightings of bottlenose dolphins, our first bottlenose dolphins of the trip.

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Bottlenose dolphin off the big island, July 5, 2008. Photo by Annie Douglas.

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Bottlenose dolphin off the big island, July 5, 2008, with a deformed upper jaw. The upper jaw of this individual bends strongly to the right. The reddish-brown visible on the lower jaw are stalked barnacles, probably growing attached to the exposed teeth on the lower jaw, similar to the stalked barnacles that grow on the exposed teeth of beaked whales in Hawai‘i. Photo by Robin Baird.

July 7 update

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Sperm whale female and calf offshore the big island, July 6, 2008. Photo by Darren Roberts.

On July 6th we headed offshore approximately 70 km west of the big island. We sighted our eighth species for the trip, a group of sperm whales (with several female/calf pairs) on Indianapolis Seamount. Unfortunately none were fluking so we were unable to get individual ID photos.

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Recovery of the High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package (HARP) off the big island, July 4, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird. After recovery of the HARP on July 4, Ethan Roth from Scripps downloaded all the acoustic data recorded over the last two months, and on July 7 we redeployed the HARP in the same location (in ~650 m depth), an area with frequent encounters of a variety of species of odontocetes. This system is set to record for five minutes out of every fifteen minutes for the next five months, and we plan on recovering it and re-deploying it again on our next trip in November/December.

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Adult male Cuvier’s beaked whale high-speed surfacing, July 7, 2008. Photo by Darren Roberts. Our ninth species seen in the last six days (and for the trip). We observed a group of four Cuvier’s beaked whales, including an adult male (pictured above), two adult females, and neonate, with slight fetal folds visible in photographs. We were able to get identification photos of all the individuals, and had one tagging attempt, but it was unsuccessful. Cuvier’s beaked whales are often very difficult to approach, and are difficult to track due to their long dive durations (up to ~90 minutes); we re-located the group after a 24-minute long-dive, and waited 60 minutes afterwards but did not re-sight them again.

July 8 update

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Map showing high quality (LC3, LC2) satellite locations of a melon-headed whale (to the west of Kauai) tagged off Kaua‘i on June 29, and a short-finned pilot whale (to the east of Kaua‘i) tagged off Kaua‘i on July 1, over a 24 hour period. Times indicated associated with the most recent locations are in GMT, not HST.

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Map showing high quality (LC3, LC2) satellite locations of a number of tagged individuals off the big island over a 24 hour period on July 8. The two northern-most locations are of melon-headed whales tagged off Kona on July 2, while the other locations are of 9 different short-finned pilot whales (from five different groups) tagged off Kona between July 3rd and 5th.

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Short-finned pilot whale spyhopping, July 8, 2008. Photo by Daniel Webster. On July 8 we encountered four groups of short-finned pilot whales off Kona, and deployed another satellite tag on one individual, bringing to 10 the number of pilot whales tagged off the big island so far this trip.

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Hawaiian petrel, July 8, 2008. Photo by Daniel Webster.

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Masked booby, July 8, 2008. Photo by Daniel Webster.

July 9 update

July 9th we headed offshore to survey waters out to ~62 km west of the big island. We had our second group of sperm whales for the trip, as well as sightings of two new species (our 10th and 11th for the trip), Risso’s dolphin and striped dolphin, both typically found in the deepest parts of our study area (>4000 m). This was our best day ever for Hawaiian petrels in Hawai‘i, with sightings of ~18 individuals.

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Risso’s dolphin seen offshore of the big island, July 9, 2008. Photo by Annie Douglas. This is only our fifth sighting of Risso’s dolphins in Hawai‘i, and the first in mid-summer (previous sightings were in September 2004, November 2004, April 2008 and May 2008).

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Juvenile sperm whale breaching, July 9, 2008. Photo by Darren Roberts. Since our Hawai‘i work started in 2000 we’ve had 24 sightings of sperm whales in Hawai‘i, 23 sightings off the big island and 1 (a lone individual) off Kaua‘i (in 2003). Group sizes have ranged from 1 to an estimated 16 individuals; our group on July 9th, of 13 individuals, is one of the larger groups documented. As with our sighting on July 6, this group was primarily composed of females and calves, with no adult males present. None of the whales were fluking so we were not able to obtain any identification photos.

July 10 update

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Juvenile Blainville’s beaked whale, July 10, 2008. Photo by Brad Hanson.

Today was a good day. We try to survey in the area of the HARP on a regular basis to ground-truth acoustic detections with visual detections, and when heading to the HARP this morning we spotted a large group of Blainville’s beaked whales (our 12th species for the trip) within a kilometer of the HARP. Despite field work in this area for three weeks in August 2007 and four weeks in April/May 2008, our last encounter where we were able to photo-identify Blainville’s beaked whales was in December 2006, so needless to say we were quite happy to find this group. The group encountered today was the largest we’ve ever documented for this species (11 individuals), and we think we were able to obtain identification photos of all the individuals. The group contained one adult male, 3-4 juveniles, and 6-7 adult females. We were able to deploy three satellite tags (one on the adult male and on two of the adult females), as well as two suction-cup attached time-depth recorder/VHF radio tags.

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Adult female Blainville’s beaked whale (HIMd025) with a deformed rostrum, July 10, 2008. Photo by Mai Sakai. This individual has been seen multiple times off the island, with sightings in 1991, 1994, 1995, 2002, and 2003 (see the paper by McSweeney et al. published in Marine Mammal Science in 2007 for more information).

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Adult male Blainville’s beaked whale (HIMd020), July 10, 2008. Photo by Daniel Webster. This individual has been documented once previously off Kona, in 2003. Blainville’s beaked whales are strongly sexually dimorphic in skull morphology, with a highly arched lower jaw and teeth that erupt in the middle of the jaw. In Hawai‘i the teeth are often covered in stalked barnacles (see close-up photo below). Male Blainville’s also have extensive linear scars on the head, from fighting with other males.

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Close-up of the head of an adult male Blainville’s beaked whale (HIMd020), July 10, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird. The teeth that are erupted from the lower jaw are covered in stalked barnacles, and thus are not visible. The brownish coloration covering most of the head are likely diatoms.

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Juvenile Blainville’s beaked whale breaching next to an adult female, July 10, 2008. Photo by Annie Douglas. Note the ventral throat grooves, characteristic of beaked whales. The brownish patches on the belly of this animal are likely diatoms.

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Juvenile Blainville’s beaked whale with suction-cup attached time-depth recorder, July 10, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird. This tag remained attached for approximately 2 hours, during which time the whale made one long dive (45 minutes) to 829 m in depth. Based on the number of white oval scars (caused by cookie-cutter shark bites), we estimate this whale was 1-2 years of age.

July 15 update

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Rough-toothed dolphin leaping, July 12, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird. Note the pink scars on the belly of this dolphin caused by bites from cookie-cutter sharks.

The last five days have been quite productive, with 22 sightings of 8 different species. On July 12 we had our second sighting of a Cuvier’s beaked whale for the trip, an adult male. While we were not able to get close enough to tag, we did get ID photos and this turned to be the same male we saw in the group on July 7. On the 12th we also deployed our 13th satellite tag on a short-finned pilot whale this trip, the 12th off the big island. On July 13 we collected our first squid sample for the trip, that will go to Bill Walker at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory to be identified, as well as be used for stable isotope analyses. We also tagged another pilot whale, the 14th satellite tag deployed on this species this trip.

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Female and newborn short-finned pilot whale, July 13, 2008. Photo by Daniel Webster. This newborn is probably less than 12 hours old, since the dorsal fin is just starting to straighten.

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Short-finned pilot whale with healed scar on head, July 13, 2008. Photo by Daniel Webster.

On July 13 we also re-located the group of Blainville’s beaked whales that we had seen on July 10th, with at least 9 whales still together, including the three we had satellite tagged. We carry a receiver on-board the boat that will pick up the radio transmissions from the satellite tags when the animals break the surface (the tags have salt-water switches so they only transmit when above water), and were alerted to the presence of the whales from beeps on the up-link receiver. Unlike VHF radio telemetry the antennae used for the up-link receiver is not strongly directional, but signals are only typically received within a couple of kilometers of the tagged animals, so we were able to spot the animals through binoculars. We re-approached the group and were able to photo-identify most individuals present, and also deployed two additional satellite tags.

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Striped dolphin female and calf, July 15, 2008. Photo by Greg Schorr.

On July 15 we covered 204 kilometers of search effort primarily in Beaufort 1 sea conditions, sighting five different species, including striped dolphins, our second sighting of this species this trip.

July 16 update

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False killer whale off Kona, July 16, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird. On the 16th we encountered our 13th species of odontocete for the trip, a large group of false killer whales. We were able to deploy four satellite tags on individuals in this group, as well as a time-depth recorder (recovered the next day by the NOAA R/V Oscar Elton Sette), collected six biopsy samples for genetics, stable isotope and pollutant anlayses, and photo-identified at least 25 individuals.

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False killer whale with suction-cup attached time-depth recorder, July 16, 2008. Note the wound on the back immediately in front of the tag was not caused by the suction-cup attached tag. Photo by Mai Sakai.

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False killer whale with yellow-fin tuna, July 16, 2008. Photo by Brad Hanson.

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False killer whale surfacing while carrying part of a yellow-fin tuna, July 16, 2008. Photo by Annie Douglas.

An update from the NOAA R/V Oscar Elton Sette

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Deploying a suction-cup attached Dtag on a pilot whale, July 15, 2008. Photo by Allan Ligon/Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

During July 15-18 we successfully deployed and recovered three d-tags on pilot whales (two adult males and one adult female) off the Big Island. The tags remained attached for a total of 16 hours. During those four days we had multiple sightings of pilot whales, rough-toothed, bottlenose, spotted, spinner and unidentified small dolphins. We collected 7 biopsy samples from pilot whales and a skin sample from our last tagged pilot whale.

July 21 update

The last five days we’ve had 19 sightings of five different species, with 12 sightings of short-finned pilot whales, three sightings of rough-toothed dolphins (including the largest group we’ve ever documented off this island, an estimated 70 individuals), and 1-2 sightings each of pantropical spotted dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, and Risso’s dolphins (the latter a lone individual in with a group of pilot whales). We’ve had a number of re-sightings of previously satellite-tagged pilot whales (both from this trip and from previous trips), and deployed one additional satellite tag on a pilot whale. With only seven field days left we are now prioritizing future satellite tagging for species other than pilot whales.

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Daniel Webster collecting microbial samples from the exhalations of a juvenile pilot whale, July 20, 2008, for analysis of pathogens by Andrea Bogomolni at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Photo by Robin Baird.

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Rough-toothed dolphin leaping, July 21, 2008. Photo by Brandon Southall. Rough-toothed dolphins have been the second-most frequently encountered species of cetacean on this trip, with 23 sightings (out of 99 total to date).

Update from the NOAA R/V Oscar Elton Sette

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Pilot whale with suction-cup attached Dtag, July 20, 2008. Photo by Ari Friedlaender/Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

On July 20th we deployed our 5th dtag on a pilot whale at 10:57. We were approximately 4 miles west of Kealakekua Bay. The tag was set to come off at approximately 18:00. We had a visual of the tagged animal at approximately 17:15 and then heard the tag for the last time at 18:15. We spent the next 48 hours searching both visually and acoustically from the Sette and from land. We finally found the tag 1 mile offshore floating in the water 23 miles southeast of where we deployed it. Its antenna and a suction cup were missing and, it was covered with teeth marks. Although the casing was damaged the data was still recoverable. That makes five successfully deployed and recovered Dtags.

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Dtag after it was recovered, missing one suction cup and the antenna, July 22, 2008. Photo by Lesley Thorne/Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

July 25 update

On July 22nd we obtained good identification photos of two dwarf sperm whales, with one matching our catalog (HIKs044), a re-sighting from February 2008. We also collected additional breath samples from two pilot whales for pathogen analysis.

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Daniel Webster deploying a suction-cup attached Bioacoustic probe on a short-finned pilot whale, July 25, 2008. Photo by Robin Baird. This tag contains a hydrophone to record sounds around the whale as well as information on depth and underwater movements (using a 2-axis accelerometer). On July 25th we deployed two of these tags, with one remaining attached approximately four hours and the other remaining attached through the night. Both tags were recovered by researchers on the NOAA R/V Oscar Elton Sette.

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Adult male short-finned pilot whale with suction-cup attached Bioacoustic probe, July 25, 2008. Photo by Daniel Webster.

July 26 update

For the last 10 days we’ve been monitoring the movements of the false killer whales that we satellite-tagged on July 16. Each day we’ve been receiving multiple locations from the tagged whales via the ARGOS satellite system. Over that period the whales have remained associated with the island, but have spent their time north of our study area or off the east side of the island. This morning we were excited to obtain ARGOS locations of tagged whales that were in the northern part of our study area, with a trend over the previous 12 hours of southward movement. Within an hour of leaving the harbor we encountered a dispersed group of approximately 20 individuals, moving south along the coast. We were able to photo-identify most of the individuals present, and also deployed two additional satellite tags on individuals in the group, to increase the likelihood of tracking multiple sub-groups when this group splits.

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False killer whale with tuna, July 26, 2008. Photo by Annie Douglas.

July 27 update

Today was our last day on the water. We re-located the group of false killer whales from yesterday and obtained identification photos of perhaps 30 individuals, as well as IDs of a number of bottlenose dolphins. All together we spent 31 days on the water, covering approximately 3,600 km of survey trackline. We had 109 sightings of 13 species of cetaceans, including 42 sightings of short-finned pilot whales, 23 sightings of rough-toothed dolphins, 7 sightings each of pantropical spotted dolphins and bottlenose dolphins, 5 sightings of dwarf sperm whales, 4 sightings each of melon-headed whales and spinner dolphins, 3 sightings of false killer whales (2 as a result of re-locating the original satellite tagged group), 2 sightings each of sperm whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales, Blainville’s beaked whales, Risso’s dolphins, and striped dolphins, and 4 sightings of unidentified small odontocetes (most likely dwarf sperm whales or rough-toothed dolphins).

In terms of being able to track movements of individuals in relation to the RIMPAC naval exercise, we were able to deploy medium-term satellite tags on four species of odontocetes, including 16 short-finned pilot whales, 6 false killer whales, 5 Blainville’s beaked whales, and 5 melon-headed whales. We are continuing to receive multiple locations each day from the majority of these tagged individuals. As well as the satellite tag deployments, we deployed suction-cup attached data recording tags on two Blainville’s beaked whales, one false killer whale, and three short-finned pilot whales. For better or for worse, we took >48,000 photographs (156 gigs!).

September 4 update

More than five weeks after we left the field we are still receiving locations from eight of the satellite tagged whales. Seven of the tags are transmitting daily, while one was programmed to switch to every second day after the first 43 days on the whale. The tags are still transmitting on three of the Blainville’s beaked whales (day 56 for two and day 52 for the third), two of the false killer whales (day 50 for one and day 40 for the other), and three of the short-finned pilot whales (day 62, day 53, and day 47). Prior to this project the longest we’d had a tag transmit for was 23 days for a Blainville’s beaked whale (from November 2006), 32 days for a false killer whale (from August 2007), and 52 days for a pilot whale (from May 2008), so these longer-term tracks are providing information on movements of these individuals that we’ve never been able to collect before. We hope they will continue to transmit for many more weeks, although some of them are getting close to reaching the theoretical end of their battery life. The satellite locations have allowed Dan McSweeney to re-locate several of the groups to photo-identify individuals, both to examine associations and to assess how the tag sites are healing. Although the data are still coming in from these whales, the analysis process has begun on tags that have stopped transmitting.

All photos on this page taken under NMFS Scientific Research Permits (Nos. 731-1774 and 774-1714). All photos are copyrighted and should not be used without permission.