Sperm whales in Hawai‘i

A sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) fluking off the island of Hawai‘i.

From 2000 through 2021 we’ve encountered sperm whales on 52 occasions in Hawai‘i, with sightings throughout the year. We try to obtain photographs of the underside of the flukes for individual identification, and these are contributed to a photo-identification catalog at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California.

Adult sperm whale logging at the surface. We are also using satellite tags (note the tag visible at the base of the dorsal fin) to examine movements of sperm whales in Hawaiian waters. Through the end of 2021 we’ve obtained movement data from 12 individual sperm whales in Hawaiian waters, 4 of which we also obtained dive data for. Because sperm whales do not always show their tail flukes when they dive, we also obtain dorsal fin photographs to identify individuals.

Sperm whale traveling. The blow hole, located at the tip of the head on the left side, is visible in this photo.

Pair of sperm whales off the island of Hawai‘i. Sperm whales in Hawai‘i typically use deep water (our sightings range from 1,100 to 4,650 meters deep; average = 2,590 m) far from shore (our sightings range from 5 to 32 kilometers from shore; average = 19 km). Group sizes we’ve documented range from lone individuals to a group of about 35, and whales are often spread out over very wide areas.

A sperm whale breaching in Hawai‘i. We are also collecting skin samples from sperm whales in Hawai‘i for contribution to a large-scale study of population genetics being undertaken through the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Samples are obtained both from sloughed skin in the water and from remote biopsies.

For more information on sperm whales in Hawai‘i see:

  • Rone, B.K., R.W. Baird, D.L. Webster and D.B. Anderson. 2015. Satellite telemetry results indicate an open-ocean population of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) in Hawaiian waters. Poster presented at the 21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, San Francisco, California, December 14-18, 2015. Download PDF copy
  • Foltz, K., R.W. Baird, G.M. Ylitalo and B.A. Jensen. 2014. Cytochrome P4501A1 expression in blubber biopsies of endangered false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) and nine other odontocete species from Hawai’i. Ecotoxicology doi: 10.1007/s10646-014-1300-0. Download PDF copy
  • Baird, R.W., D.L. Webster, J.M. Aschettino, G.S. Schorr and D.J. McSweeney. 2013. Odontocete cetaceans around the main Hawaiian Islands: habitat use and relative abundance from small-boat sighting surveys. Aquatic Mammals 39:253-269. Download PDF copy
  • Klinck, H., D.K. Melinger, K. Klinck, N.M. Bogue, J.C. Luby, W.A. Jump, G.S. Shilling, T. Litchendorf, A.S. Wood, G.S. Schorr and R.W. Baird. 2012. Near real-time acoustic monitoring of beaked whales and other cetaceans using a seagliderTM. PLoS One doi: 7:e36128 Download PDF copy
  • Mesnick, S.L., B.L. Taylor, F.I. Archer, K.K. Martien, S. Escorza Treviño, B.L. Hancock-Hanser, S.C. Moreno Medina, V.L. Pease, K.M. Robertson, J.M. Straley, R.W. Baird, J. Calambokidis, G.S. Schorr, P. Wade, V. Burkanov, C.R. Lunsford, L. Rendell, and P.A. Morin. 2011. Sperm whale population structure in the eastern and central North Pacific inferred by the use of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), microsatellites and mitochondrial DNA. Molecular Ecology Resources 11(Suppl. 1):278-298. Download PDF copy

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

Updated November 2021.

Return to the Hawaiian Dolphin and Whale Species Page

Got photos? We have photo-ID catalogs for several Hawaiian cetacean species! If you have photos that you would be willing to share, you can learn how to submit those to us at this link, or contact us at Hawaii@cascadiaresearch.org