Updates from our July 2024 Lāna‘i field project

false killer whale, Pseudorca, leaping, Lānaʻi, Hawaii
A false killer whale leaping during a predation event off Lāna‘i during our last field project there, in December 2020

We are planning a ~2-week field effort off Lāna‘i in July, starting ~July 6th. This will be our first field effort off Lāna‘i since December 2020 and our first mid-summer field effort there. Why Lāna‘i? The area west and southwest of the island is the best accessible location around the main Hawaiian Islands to encounter Cluster 4 of the endangered main Hawaiian Islands insular population of false killer whales. This group is not encountered or photographed very often, and we are hoping to find and work with them, to get a better understanding of how this social cluster, and the population in general, is doing. In addition to trying to photo-identify as many individuals as possible, we will be collecting small biopsy samples for studies of genetics as well as for other analyses (e.g., pollutants or stable isotopes), and hoping to deploy one or more LIMPET satellite tags to track individuals over time. While false killer whales are our primary focus for the project, we’ll work with every species we encounter, collecting photos for our catalogs of bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, short-finned pilot whales, and, if we are lucky with the weather, some of the less-common deeper-water species that we’ve previously encountered west of Lāna‘i, such as rough-toothed dolphins, dwarf sperm whales, or pygmy killer whales. We will also be recording seabirds (and photographing any unusual species), as well as game fish and bait schools, all indicators of productivity in the area.

This project is funded by a grant from the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and we also thank Pulama Lāna‘i for logistical support for this effort! The primary research crew for this effort include Mark Mohler, Brittany Guenther, Cory Fults, Hadley Clarke, and Robin Baird.

If you are going to be on the water off Maui or Lāna‘i between July 6 and 19, and see false killer whales (or any unusual species), we would love to hear from you! If you don’t have a cell phone number for our crew, please send an email to Robin Baird at rwbaird (at) cascadiaresearch (dot) org and we’ll pass on cell phone contact information.

We’ll be adding photos and other updates every couple of days during the project – check back on ~July 7th for the first update!