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!

IWC 2017 meeting in Bled, Slovenia

Hues of blues and vibrant greens reflect off the calm, clear waters of Lake Bled, a fairytale of a place located in the upper region of northwestern Slovenia. It is this quaint community of Bled, nestled in the foothills of the Julian Alps and famous for its cream cake, that set the stage for nearly 200 scientists from over 40 countries to present their recommendations for whale management policies at the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee meeting in May.

The Scientific Committee (SC) is the body that advises the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on whale stock management and conservation measures. Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) Founder, Greg Kaufman is an Invited Participant to the SC and serves on several subcommittees including: Whalewatch, Southern Hemisphere whales, Small Cetaceans, Photo-ID and Non-deliberate Human Induced Mortality on Cetaceans. He also serves as the international whalewatch representative to the IWC’s Conservation Committee. Part of PWF’s presence at the IWC is to help ensure scientifically based management of the world’s whale populations.

PWF has been instrumental in providing a comprehensive assessment of the impacts and value of whalewatching. Greg is a team member for the IWC’s Modeling and Assessment of the Whalewatch Industry (MAWI) that will undertake a workshop in the next six months to define a long-term assessment on global whalewatch operations. Since 2010, Greg has also been involved in drafting an international Strategic Plan for Whalewatching. This plan is undergoing further review with an expected international roll-out in the next few years.

A dozen papers authored, co-authored, or using PWF data were presented to the SC this year. One of the most highly regarded papers was focused on photo-identification of Bryde’s whales in Latin America. This work, long thought to be near impossible to conduct, was co-led by PWF Ecuador researcher, Cristina Castro who collected and compiled the data. Barbara Galletti also presented research funded by PWF on Chilean blue whales, focusing on a small population found off the coast of Chiloe Island.

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Celebrate Endangered Species Day

Endangered Species Day is a celebration of the nation’s wildlife and wild places and is an opportunity for people of all ages to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species. Started in 2006 by the United States Congress, Endangered Species Day occurs on the 3rd Friday of May to inspire people to take action in their everyday lives to help protect endangered species.

At Pacific Whale Foundation we research two endangered species: humpback whales and false killer whales.

As with many endangered species, both humpback whales and false killer whales are endangered due to human activities. The North Pacific population of humpback whales was hunted until only a few hundred individuals remained. Although their population has recovered immensely—recent estimates suggest approximately 20,000 humpbacks in the North Pacific—they and other large whale species are still at risk of vessel collisions and entanglement in fishing gear. Our current research on humpback whales aims to reduce the risk of these collisions by determining which factors contribute to detectability of the whales.

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#PWFSaveTheWhales: 35 Ways to Save the Whales on our 35th Anniversary

35 yearsThirty five years ago, Pacific Whale Foundation was founded with the primary goal of saving the humpback whales, which were dangerously close to extinction in 1980. Now, our mission is to protect our oceans through science and advocacy. In our 35 years as an organization, we’re proud to have had ocean conservation victories on behalf of the whales.

A few highlights from years past include stopping the operation of a high speed ferry through calving grounds, banning plastic bags in Maui County and banning smoking and tobacco use at Maui County beaches and parks, banning the display of captive cetaceans in Maui County, and helping to designate the false killer whale as an endangered species. Learn more here.

However, humpback whales are not “out of the woods” yet. Humpback whales are still on the endangered species list and still have many threats facing them. At the top of the food chain, whales have an important role in the overall health of the ocean. Though whale protections and public awareness of the inhumaneness of whaling have improved, unfortunately seven out of the 13 great whale species are classified as endangered or vulnerable, even after decades of protection.  What are threats to whales and how can we help save them?

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Help Protect Maui’s Coral Reefs and Manta Rays

Maui truly is blessed in being surrounded by an underwater wonderland. In addition to hosting one of the largest concentrations of humpback whales during their birthing season in the world, we are also lucky to have the chance to see other graceful, unique denizens of the deep, such as monk seals, several species of sharks and even manta rays.

Picture donated by Blake Moore

Maui is one of a few places in the entire world with a resident population of manta rays. Olowalu Reef, off of West Maui, is home to an estimated 350 resident reef manta rays. In nearshore reef locations, manta rays congregate around “cleaning stations”, where Hawaiian cleaner wrasse eat parasites of  the skin of a manta ray. Manta rays are also thought to breed in the shallow coral reef habitat.

Unfortunately, both species of manta ray (Manta birostris and Manta alfredi) are currently listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Manta rays are hunted in some countries for their skin, their fins (for the shark fin soup trade) and for their gill rakers, which are used in some Chinese medicines. Since manta rays mature slowly and have few pups, they are especially susceptible to fishing pressures. Manta rays around Maui have also been spotted entangled in fishing line and some have even lost part of their fins due to this marine debris. Learn more from HAMER.

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FACT OF THE WEEK: Hawaii’s State Mammal is Critically Endangered

MORE ON THIS: To native Hawaiians, this furry creature may be referred to as ‘llioholoikauaua, but you personally know them as Hawaiian monk seals. These monk seals are endemic, meaning they are only found in Hawai‘i. They are one of the most endangered animals in the world, with their population of about 1,100 still declining.

These marine mammals are semiaquatic, spending most of their time at sea and some of their time on land.  “Hauling out” is a process where the seal goes onto the beaches to sleep, nurse, molt and rest. Here, a mother will nurse her pup for about 6 weeks and then the roughly 200-pound pup will have to fend for itself. An adult will grow from 6 to 7.5 feet in length and will weight between 375 to 600 pounds. They are generalist feeders, feeding on what is readily available, such as squid, eel, octopi, fish, and crustaceans.

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