Cascadia Research’s first Hawai’i field project of 2019 was based off Maui, from March 11-17, 2019. This project was the start of the 20th consecutive year of this study on Hawaiian odontocetes, although this effort was a bit different from most, as we were spending a lot of time also working with humpback whales (in conjunction with a film crew) primarily in the shallow waters of the Au Au channel. While the humpback focus may be surprising to long-term followers of our Hawai’i research, the first funding for the Hawai’i research effort (in 2000) was actually to work with humpback whales, a study examining their sub-surface and night time behavior. It was this early funding which allowed us to start the research on several species of odontocetes. The shallow waters of this area host only four species of odontocetes, and we were able to encounter all four during the project.
The crew for this project included Brittany Guenther, Jordan Lerma and Robin Baird, with help from Lee James, Lynn Padilla, David Reichert and Trent Ellis. For this project we used the Aloha Kai, provided by Ultimate Whalewatch.
By far the highlight of the week was an encounter with Cluster 4 of the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population of false killer whales. We were able to get identification photos of about 20-25 individuals, collected four biopsy samples for studies of genetics, aging, and hormone chemistry, collected three breath samples for a study of the respiratory microbiome, and obtained some beautiful GoPro and Drone footage of the group.
False killer whales from Cluster 4 of the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population.
Fast moving false killer whales!
False killer whales passing the cliffs off southwest Lāna‘i
We also witnessed at least three predation events, this one on a mahimahi
An adult pantropical spotted dolphin shows the complex spotting patterns of this species. One of the few species we do not have a Hawai’i photo-identification catalog of (we have catalogs of 13 species from Hawai’i), although we are collecting photos for the eventual creation of a catalog, as there are a lot of questions about stock boundaries and fisheries interactions with this species in Hawaiian waters.
As well as false killer whales, we also encountered two groups of bottlenose dolphins and were able to obtain identification photos to add to our photo-ID catalog for this species. There is a small resident population of bottlenose dolphins in the Maui Nui area, with some movements between Maui Nui and O’ahu, so these photos will help us better understand the interactions between these two communities.
Spending most of our time off west Maui we had dozens of encounters with humpback whales.This one has a large bite out of it’s flipper, likely from a shark attack.
We also photograph any unusual birds we see while on the project – the most interesting sighting of the trip was a Red Phalarope, a winter visitor to Hawai’i. For more information on birds we encounter check out our seabird page and the “Birds of the Hawaiian Islands” accounts at the Bishop Museum.
Photos on this page were taken under NMFS Permit No. 20605. Contact Robin Baird (rwbaird “at” cascadiaresearch “dot” org) for more information
We will be undertaking a 14-day field project off Lāna‘i starting February 20, 2018, funded through a NOAA Species Recovery Grant to the State of Hawai‘i. This will be our first Hawai‘i field effort of 2018, and the start of our 19th year of work in Hawai‘i! This will be our seventh year of working off Maui Nui since first working here in 2000, following on from a very successful field project off Lāna‘i in March 2017. We are based out of Manele Bay for the project, to allow quick access to the deeper water west of Lāna‘i. We have a number of goals for our field work, but the primary one is to learn more about false killer whales, through the deployment of LIMPET satellite tags, photo-identification, and collection of biopsy samples for genetics, hormone chemistry and toxicology. We also have funding for tags from Dolphin Quest, and hope to deploy tags on one or more of short-finned pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, or other species we encounter. As usual, we’ll be working with all species of odontocetes we encounter, trying to obtain photos for photo-identification catalogs, and we may also collect biopsy samples for studies of genetics, toxicology, and hormone chemistry of other species.
The research crew for this project will include Daniel Webster, Colin Cornforth and Robin Baird, all from Cascadia, Jordan Lerma from Uheheu, Brittany Guenther, and a number of volunteers. We want to thank Pūlama Lāna‘i for logistical support.
If you want some background information on our work in Hawai‘i we published a paper on our first 13 years of surveys and a pdf is available here
End of project update
March 6th was our last day on the water. Over the 14 days we 27 encounters of six species of odontocetes, as well as two encounters with sei whales, and many sightings of humpback whales. We took just over 20,000 photos, over half of them of false killer whales, always a good thing! With tags out on two different social groups of false killer whales (Cluster 1 and the rarely-seen Cluster 4), we more than met our goals for the project, and are looking forward to tracking the movements of these groups over the next weeks and months.
We also documented a number of predation events of false killer whales feeding on mahimahi, ono, and in the photo above a scrawled filefish.
False killer whale leaping, March 4, 2018.
Several of the fish the false killer whales were trying to catch were hiding under or in marine debris, in this case inside a plastic crate. This false killer whale is nudging the crate to try to dislodge the fish.
March 3rd update
Today we had another encounter with our priority species, false killer whales, this time with the rarely-seen Cluster 4 from the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population. The well-marked individual in this photo is HIPc122 in our photo-ID catalog. This individual was first documented during one of our field projects in November 2000, over 17 years ago, and was last seen during our March 2017 Lāna‘i project. Although the conditions were poor, we were able to get good ID photos of four individuals, and deployed on LIMPET satellite tag – only the third time that individuals from this group have been tagged.
We also encountered a very large group (~650 individuals) of melon-headed whales south of Lāna‘i, only the second time we’ve encountered this species in the Maui Nui area (the first was in our December 2012 project). This group is likely from the Hawaiian Islands population, individuals of which spend most of their time in deep water moving among the islands and into offshore waters. For more information on melon-headed whales in Hawaiian waters check out our web page for this species.
On March 1st we had our second encounter of a sei whale for the trip (and our second encounter ever of sei whales in Hawai‘i in our 18 years of working here!). This individual was off the west side of Lāna‘i, and while we weren’t able to get close enough to deploy a satellite tag, we were able to get a good view of the head (with only a single head ridge, unlike the similar appearing Bryde’s whale).
Another photo of the sei whale from March 1st, showing the very low surfacing profile of this species.
February 25th update
Today we encountered our highest priority species for the trip, false killer whales! We were able to get identification photos of about 18 individuals, and have matched some of the photos to Cluster 1 from the endangered main Hawaiian Islands population. As well as the photos, we were able to deploy two LIMPET satellite tags, to track the movements of this group over the next couple of months. .
An adult male false killer whale – adult males are both larger than adult females and have a more protruding rostrum, visible in this individual.
A bottlenose dolphin (foreground) following false killer whales (background) – we’ve seen associations between these two species before, and in this case the bottlenose dolphin was following the false killer whales when they were feeding on an unidentified fish, presumably trying to pick up scraps.
A false killer whale off Maui, February 26, 2018.
February 23rd update
The first few days of the project have been quite productive, with encounters with bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, spinner dolphins, short-finned pilot whales, and the highlight of the trip so far, two sei whales. This was our first-ever sighting of sei whales in our work in Hawaiian waters, and the third species of baleen whale we’ve seen in Hawai‘i.
We’ve had several encounters with pantropical spotted dolphins over the last few days, but our encounter on February 22nd was quite productive, as we were able to deploy a LIMPET satellite tag on one individual to track their movements. This was only the 2nd spotted dolphin we’ve tagged in the Maui Nui area, and the 8th we’ve tagged in Hawai‘i. LIMPET tags on spotted dolphins last an average of 18 days, so we are hoping this tag will give us at least two weeks of movement information. There are three island-associated populations of pantropical spotted dolphins recognized from Hawaiian waters, one off O‘ahu, one off Maui Nui, and one off Hawai‘i Island. The exact boundaries and ranges of these populations are unknown however, and we are trying to determine these through satellite tagging.
Short-finned pilot whales off the west side of Lāna‘i, February 21st, 2018. The group we encountered was relatively small (~15 individuals) and we were able to get good ID photos of most of the individuals present. There is a resident population of short-finned pilot whales that regularly uses the area west of the island.
On Tuesday February 20th we brought the research vessel from Maui to Lāna‘i, and encountered a group of bottlenose dolphins in the channel. We were able to get good ID photos of most of the individuals present, to compare to our photo-ID catalog of this species.
We didn’t get any good images of the sei whales we saw on February 21st, but when Colin Cornforth and Shannon Harrison were bringing the research vessel over from Kaua‘i to Maui on February 16th, they encountered three sei whales, so we’ve included images of one of those individuals here.
The research vessel we’ll be using for this project, a 24′ Hurricane.
Our survey effort off Maui Nui in previous years (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2012, 2017).
Photos taken NMFS Scientific Research Permits. All photos are copyrighted and should not be used without permission (contact Robin Baird at rwbaird (at) cascadiaresearch.org for permission).