Updates from our May 2013 Hawai‘i field work

Cascadia Research will be undertaking a 19-day collaborative field project with researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution off the island of Hawai‘i starting May 10th, 2013. The primary purpose of the project is to obtain information on diving and acoustic behavior of false killer whales and melon-headed whales through the deployment of suction-cup attached digitial acoustic tags (Dtags), continuing work started in October 2011. Like all of our projects we’ll also be obtaining photos from most species of odontocetes we encounter, to contribute to ongoing studies of residency patterns and social organization and to estimate population sizes, collecting biopsy samples for toxicology and genetic studies, and attempting to deploy satellite tags to study movements and diving behavior.

The research team includes Aran Mooney and Max Kaplan from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Daniel Webster, Brenda Rone and Robin Baird of Cascadia, Amy Van Cise of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and a number of visiting researchers and volunteers. This work is primarily being funded by a grant from the Office of Naval Research, as well as a grant from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and a grant from Dolphin Quest.

End of project update

May 28th was our last day on the water. Over the past 19 days we covered 2,644 km of trackline and had 57 sightings of 9 species of odontocetes. We took over 40,000 photos for species and individual identification, deployed 8 DTAGs on 2 species and 4 satellite tags on 2 species, collected 19 genetic samples, and made numerous acoustic recordings of a number of species. Overall a very productive trip.

One of three squid we collected this trip, May 28, 2013. Photo (c) Daniel L. Webster. For more information on our squid collections in Hawaii see a poster presented at a recent conference of the Pacific Seabird Group

Map showing movements of a satellite-tagged sperm whale over the last 10 days.

Short-finned pilot whale with a satellite tag at the base of the dorsal fin, May 28, 2013. Photo (c) Amy Van Cise

Pantropical spotted dolphin with suction-cup attached DTAG, May 27, 2013. Photo (c) Robin W. Baird

Pantropical spotted dolphin with notches on the dorsal fin probably caused by a propeller strike, May 26, 2013. Photo (c) Amy Van Cise

Pantropical spotted dolphin leaping, May 26, 2013. Photo (c) Amy Van Cise

May 25th update

A short-finned pilot whale with a suction-cup attached DTAG attached, May 25, 2013. Photo (c) Robin W. Baird. Today we were able to deploy three of the WHOI DTAGs, which record both acoustics and detailed informaiton on diving behavior and underwater movements, on individuals in a group of about 25 pilot whales.

Pygmy killer whale, May 24, 2013, Photo (c) Brenda K. Rone. On May 24th we encountered a large group of pygmy killer whales (~23 individuals) and were able to photo-identify most of the individuals present. One of the ways this species can be distinguished from melon-headed whales are the frequent widely-spaced light-colored scars visible on the body, as in this individual.

Three pygmy killer whales, May 24, 2013, Photo (c) Brenda K. Rone. The white scar on the dorsal fin of the central individual is likely caused by a bite from a cookie-cutter shark.

May 23rd update

Short-finned pilot whale spyhopping, May 23, 2013. Photo (c) Amy Van Cise

Short-finned pilot whale and two acoustic-recording systems, photo (c) Amy Van Cise. To the right is the BURP (Biological Underwater Recording Package, on the right) developed by Jay Barlow at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and to the left is the DAWG (Digital Acoustic Wideband Gizmo) developed by Aran Mooney at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Both systems record broad-band acoustic signals and can be deployed near or in front of a group of animals to record sounds produced.

A red-tailed tropicbird, May 23, 2013. Photo (c) Brenda Rone. While on the water we record and photograph seabirds we observe in order to better understand seabird populations in the area – for more information on seabirds in Hawai‘i see our web page on seabirds in Hawai‘i

May 22nd update

Sperm whale breaching, May 22, 2013. Photo (c) Robin W. Baird. Today we encountered the same group of sperm whales we saw on May 16th (see below) and were able to deploy a second satellite tag, as well as obtain two additional skin samples for genetics. The group was first seen at a distance of over 8 kilometers (measured on our GPS), as the first sighting was one individual breaching clear of the water.

Sperm whale breaching, May 22, 2013. Photo (c) Robin W. Baird.

Sperm whale breaching, May 22, 2013. Photo (c) Robin W. Baird.

Map showing movements of the sperm whale satellite tagged on May 16th for the last week.

May 21st update

A very distinctive dwarf sperm whale, May 21, 2013. Photo (c) Daniel Webster. Today we had a good encounter with a group of about six dwarf sperm whales, and were able to photograph most of the individuals to compare with our catalog of this species.

Another dwarf sperm whale from May 21st, 2013. Photo (c) Daniel Webster. There is a small resident population of dwarf sperm whales that live along the west coast of the island, so we suspect at least a couple of these individuals will match our catalog. For more information on dwarf sperm whales see our web page for this species

We also encountered a lone Cuvier’s beaked whale, and were able to get photos to identify the individual, primarily based on the pattern of scars caused by cookie-cutter shark bites. Photo (c) Max Kaplan

On May 20, 2013 we encountered a group of pygmy killer whales, a very rare species off Kona, and were able to photo-identify seven or more individuals. Photo (c) Brenda Rone. For more information on pygmy killer whales see our web page for this species

May 18th update

Sperm whale, May 16, 2013. Photo (c) Brenda Rone. The highlight of the last three days was a sighting of a group of about 22 sperm whales, our first sighting of this species in Hawai‘i since October 2011, and the second-largest group of this species we’ve seen in Hawaiian waters.

As well as collecting two skin samples we were able to deploy a satellite tag on one individual, visible here on the right side of the dorsal fin. Photo (c) Brenda Rone. This is the 6th sperm whale we’ve satellite tagged in Hawaiian waters; we are attempting to examine habitat use and movement patterns of this species using these tags.

Movements of the satellite-tagged sperm whale from May 16th through the morning of May 18th, 2013.

Sperm whale, May 16, 2013. Photo (c) Brenda Rone.

Sperm whale mother and calf, May 16, 2013. Photo (c) Brenda Rone.

May 15th update

Short-finned pilot whales, May 15, 2013. Photo (c) Amy Van Cise. Despite some rain squalls it was a productive day on the water, with encounters with three groups of pilot whales. We are collecting skin biopsies for genetic studies of this species, being undertaken by Amy Van Cise of Scripps. As part of this we bring most of our “big island” pilot whale catalog out in the field with us (on an iPad) and use it to identify individuals in the field, and whether they’ve been previously biopsied, so we can only sample individuals that have not been previously sampled. The first group we encountered was not in our “big island” catalog, but it turns out the group has been previously documented before, off the island of Kaua‘i. Very exciting to document movements among island for this species, not something we record very often. We were able to collect three biopsy samples from that group and two from another group encountered later in the day.

An adult male short-finned pilot whale with an injury to the fin, probably caused by a cookie-cutter shark bite. Photo (c) Carol Palmer.

Pantropical spotted dolphin, May 15, 2013. Photo (c) Amy Van Cise. We also encountered several groups of spotted dolphins and were able to obtain photos for a photo-identification catalog of this species.

Pantropical spotted dolphin, May 15, 2013. Photo (c) Brenda Rone.

On our way back into the harbor we also stopped to recover a “HARP”, a High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package, that has been acoustically monitoring cetaceans off Kona since November 2012. The HARP data are part of a long-term project being run by Erin Oleson of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. Photo by Brenda Rone.

May 14th update

Melon-headed whale spyhopping, May 14, 2013. Photo (c) Amy Van Cise. Today and yesterday we encountered one of our high priority species, melon-headed whales. Both groups were relatively small, less than 20 individuals on May 13th and about 55 individuals today – both are part of the Kohala Resident population. We were able to photo-identify most of the individuals present but were not able to approach close enough to deploy satellite- or Dtags.

Melon-headed whales, May 14, 2013. Photo (c) Amy Van Cise. For more information on melon-headed whales off Kona see our web page on this species.

Melon-headed whale mother and neonate, May 14, 2013. Photo (c) Brenda Rone

May 12th update

Short-finned pilot whale, May 12, 2013. Photo (c) Amy Van Cise. Weather conditions the last two days have been sub-optimal, unusually windy for the Kona coast, but we have encountered several species, including a group of nine short-finned pilot whales. This was a group we’ve encountered may times over the last 7 years and we’ve previously collected genetic samples from several individuals as well as satellite-tagged several, so today we limited our work with the group to photo-identifying the individuals present and making an acoustic recording.

Pantropical spotted dolphin, May 11, 2013. Photo (c) Daniel Webster.

A pair of pantropical spotted dolphins, May 11, 2013. Photo (c) Daniel Webster

A very well-marked pantropical spotted dolphin, May 11, 2013. Photo (c) Daniel Webster. This species can be identified both by notches and nicks out of the dorsal fin as well as characteristic pigmentation patterns. Our photo-ID catalog for this species is relatively small, but we have been collecting photographs whenever possible to increase the catalog size so that can examine movements and estimate the abundance of the local island-associated population.

May 10th update

Bottlenose dolphins, May 10, 2013, photo (c) Daniel Webster. May 10th was our first day on the water for this trip and the forecast was good (10 knots), allowing us to go north into an area where we see melon-headed whales and false killer whales most frequently. We were able to cover 175 km of trackline and had four sightings of odontocetes – three groups of bottlenose dolphins and a group of pantropical spotted dolphins. Unfortunately the winds are increasing so we are unlikely to be able to get north in the next few days.

Our trackline from the first day on the water.

A juvenile Great Frigatebird carrying a fish, May 10, 2013, photo (c) Brenda Rone.

Photo below from May 2012 field project

An adult female and a newborn melon-headed whale, from our May 2012 field effort. Photo (c) Robin Baird.

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