New research study on “Swim-with-Whales” tourism

Beginning in July 2018, our “Swim-with-Whales” Impact Study invites a small number of vessel passengers to enter the water with humpback whales. In Hervey Bay, the government has recently authorized commercial tour operators to allow passengers in the water alongside humpback whales and Pacific Whale Foundation wants to conduct scientific research to see how the presence of swimmers affects humpback whales in an important resting area. Our research will help ensure that this tourism activity is developed in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Our data collection supports the Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching which state that commercial swim programs should be accompanied by ongoing research to monitor whale and dolphin response to swimmers. This will be an exciting way for the public to get directly involved in citizen science while enjoying the rare opportunity to be in the water alongside a humpback whale, and it will allow our research team to identify any potential detrimental effects of these tours and hopefully mitigate them through adaptive management protocols.

If you’re in Hervey Bay between July and September and you’d like to help our researchers with this study, please visit us at the Great Sandy Straits Marina or book a trip online.

We also encourage you to check out our website for more information on this study and our research in Australia.

Going Plastic Free

We all contribute to the plastic waste problem, so we should all contribute to the solution. While recycling is a good thing to do, to truly tackle this problem we must reduce the amount of plastic we are creating in the first place. In this blog post, we encourage you to speak with your wallet and stop purchasing single-use plastics.

The first step to going plastic free is to understand why this issue is so important. In today’s world, plastics are everywhere — but did you know that every piece of plastic ever created still exists today? Plastic never truly biodegrades; it only breaks up into smaller pieces which can cause a huge problem in our environment. Microscopic organisms can ingest these tiny pieces of plastic and then up the food chain it goes. Larger animals like birds, turtles, and whales can directly ingest plastic too, or become entangled in it.

Below you will find a range of alternative products from beauty supplies to reusable lunch boxes and straws that can help you to reduce your environmental footprint. All of these items can either be found at Pacific Whale Foundation’s Ocean Stores on Maui, or we have provided links where you can purchase the item online.

Lunch and Kitchen Products 

  • Bees Wax Wraps: replace plastic cling wrap with this eco-friendly fabric dipped in beeswax.
  • ECOlunchbox: bento containers of various sizes to keep your lunch and snacks fresh and plastic free.
  • Blue Water Bento Lunch Bags: organic cotton lunch bags featuring turtles or whales.
  • Bamboo utensil travel set: bring this eco-conscious utensil set with you and never have to use plastic to-go-ware again.
  • Reusable straws: we use over 500 million straws in America alone per day, you can reduce that waste with these straws in either bamboo or stainless steel.
  • H2Go water bottle: get rid of those cases of plastic water bottles by switching to a reusable insulated bottle found in several colors and sizes.

Beauty Products

  • Bamboo toothbrush: an eco-friendly and compostable brushing alternative.
  • David’s toothpaste: an all-natural ingredient toothpaste in a recyclable aluminum tube.
  • Dental Lace: silk string dental floss in a refillable glass container.
  • Plaine Products: an aluminum bottle, all-natural, refillable service for shampoo, conditioner, body wash and body lotion to help reduce that plastic container waste.
  • Besame Mascara Cake: a solid state mascara in a tin compact so you can get rid of those plastic tubes.

Remember to #ReuseorRefuse and sign our pledge to use alternatives to plastic products.

Didn’t see your favorite product listed? Leave us a comment and tell us what sustainable product you’d love to see featured in the future!

Pilot whale encounters 30 miles offshore

Our Research Team has begun surveying the deeper waters southwest of Maui as part of our new false killer whale study. The first day of research took us ~30 nautical miles off the coast of Maui in waters >2,500 feet. Although we didn’t see any false killer whales, we did have two encounters with short-finned pilot whales, a species we do not typically observe in the near-shore waters of the Maui 4-island region. This species has distinctive bulbous heads, wide dorsal fins, and sleek black bodies. Short-finned pilot whales are sexually dimorphic, which means that males and females look different. Males typically grow to 18 ft long compared to females who grow to an average length of 12 ft. The dorsal fins on males are also larger and wider than females, making it easy to tell the two apart.

During our encounter with short-finned pilot whales, two researchers were taking above water photographs of the whale’s dorsal fins, another researcher was collecting underwater footage using a pole-mounted camera, while a fourth research was collecting detailed observations on pod behavior and composition. We observed two mother-calf pairs, two subadults, and the rest were adults, spread out into smaller sub-groups of 2-3 individuals. During the encounters we observed the pod feeding and resting at the surface of the water.

The majority of our research takes place after our field work ends, because the data we collected in the field must be processed. This involved looking through 520 pictures of dorsal fins, assessing each image’s quality, and matching each image within the encounter to see how many different individuals we saw. After data processing was completed, we had photographically identified 19 different animals. These individuals were then compared to our existing catalog of 133 short-finned pilot whales to see if any have been previously sighted. One individual matched to our catalog and was sighted back in September 2002. The other 18 animals had never been seen before and were added as new individuals, increasing our catalog size to 152 individuals. Since we do not often see this species, it was expected that there would be many new individuals to add, as the estimated population size for the entire Hawaiian Islands EEZ is 12,422 whales (Bradford et al. 2013).

This was a very successful day offshore! Stay tuned for other research updates from this exciting new study.

New research study on false killer whales

The Research Team is excited to announce that we have started a new study on false killer whales! We started field work for this study in May 2018 and will survey the leeward waters surrounding the Maui 4-island region; up to 50 miles offshore. This brings us into deep waters (> 2,500 ft) where the possibility of seeing other species is also very likely. In case this does happen, we also have authorization to collect data and photo-ID of 15 other toothed-whale species. The main objectives of this study are to assess the distribution, population structure, habitat use, body condition, and behavior of false killer whales.

The majority of false killer whales encountered within the waters of the Maui 4-island region are part of the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) insular stock which is currently listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. The minimum population estimate for the MHI insular stock is 151, based on the number of unique individuals photographed (Baird et al. 2013). This stock faces a number of threats such as the effects from small population size, high levels of contaminants, interactions with fisheries, and a decrease in their prey species biomass.

Given the “endangered” status of the MHI insular false killer whales, there is a need to gain a better understanding of the species in order to develop effective management plans to aid in their recovery. Our research will provide a continuous, long-term data set using new techniques and technologies to  address gaps in our knowledge of this population. In addition to photo-identification, location, and behavioral observations, we will be using unmanned aerial vehicles (commonly called ‘drones’), photogrammetry, and underwater footage to gain information on body condition, growth rates, and possibly detect pregnant females.

We are excited to begin this new study and to learn more about this endangered population. Stay tuned for updates from the field!

Kaho’olawe Island Restoration

In February 2018 twelve Pacific Whale Foundation volunteers participated in a public access to one of Hawaii’s most sacred islands – Kaho’olawe. Kaho’olawe is believed to be the kino lau or manifestation of Kanaloa a sacred ground for the people of Hawaii to practice and embrace their culture. This island is known as the piko, or navel of the Hawaiian islands, the crossroads of past and future generations where Hawaiian culture was spread. But the history of Kaho’olawe has not been an easy one. The island is thought to have been settled by Native Hawaiians since 400 AD but, as the years went on, a dark evolution of the island began to take place.

In the 1800’s it was used as a penal colony for adult men, in the early 1900’s the uncontrolled grazing of cattle, sheep, and goats on the ranch lands started to decimate native vegetation. In 1953, in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy took the island under Martial Law as a bombing site. Ordnance were dropped on Kaho’olawe until the early 1990’s, destroying sections of land, eliminating acres of native vegetation, and causing massive amounts of erosion to come from the island.

In 2004 the process of removing unexploded ordnance from the island started, in hopes of restoring it to its once accessible state. Around 75% of the surface area of Kaho’olawe is cleared today and, of this, 11% is cleared to a depth of 4 feet. The next step in the restoration project has been to re-plant native vegetation to stunt the erosion and combat the extensive network of invasive plants that have moved in.

Nowadays so many volunteers apply to assist with this restoration that there is a multi-year waiting list. After a three year wait, a small group of Pacific Whale Foundation employees were admitted access to Kaho’olawe with a conservation mission to help restore the island. Our staff spent three days pulling invasive plant species and replacing them with over 1,000 new native plants, while exploring and learning of the cultural significance this island has to the Hawaiian people. Our staff were honored and  privileged to be allowed to partake in this conservation experience of a lifetime. Hard work and dedication to restoring this island was given to Kaho’olawe by a small group of volunteers, upholding one of Pacific Whale Foundation’s main tiers, conservation and environmental stewardship.

 

Kaho’olawe has generations of restoration work ahead of it, but with passionate volunteers dedicated to conservation and cultural understanding, this island will hopefully one day be restored.

Research Team Launches Dolphin and Whale Tracker App

The Pacific Whale Foundation research team has been hard at work creating a new ‘Whale & Dolphin Tracker’ app that is now available for download on the App Store and Google Play. This free app allows members of the public from all over the world to participate in citizen science by recording sighting of marine mammals. Contributors are able to use their mobile phone to record the GPS location of the animals, group size, observed behaviors, as well as upload any photos they may have taken. It’s an exciting way for the public to get more involved with the monitoring and research of marine life.

The Whale and Dolphin Tracker app was initially designed as a tool for PWF’s Marine Naturalists to record marine mammal sightings in the 4-island region of Maui, Kaho’olawe, Lana’i, and Moloka’i. Launching the public app will allow for a greater range of data collection in real time and overall will contribute to the global research database of cetacean species.

Additionally, users can find an interactive live sightings map on the Pacific Whale Foundation website which displays all sightings logged on the app within the past 7 days. Viewers will be able to use species and location filters to observe changes throughout the year.

This app was able to come to life thanks to a successful fundraising venture in 2016. Jens Currie, the Senior Research Analyst at Pacific Whale Foundation, is excited about the crowdsourcing opportunities that are created by the app: “Now that more users will have access to Whale and Dolphin Tracker directly from their phones, our crowdsourcing ability, and geographical coverage will expand, and so will our knowledge of whale and dolphin distribution”. He also added “We just published a research paper on humpback whale distribution using Whale & Dolphin Tracker data, and are excited about the opportunities this app presents for opportunistic data collection.”

Are you excited to get involved with real-time monitoring of cetaceans around the world? Head to the Apple app store or Google Play now to download Whale and Dolphin Tracker and join the team.