A survey for odontocete cetaceans off Kaua’i and Ni’ihau, Hawai’i, during October and November 2005: evidence for population structure and site fidelity

Considerable uncertainty exists regarding population structure and population sizes of most species of odontocetes in the Hawaiian Islands. A small-boat based survey for odontocetes was undertaken off the islands of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau in October and November 2005 to photoidentify individuals and collect genetic samples for examining stock structure. Field effort on 24 days covered 2,194 km of trackline. Survey coverage was from shallow coastal waters out to over 3,000 m depth, though almost half (47%) was in waters less than 500 m in depth. There were 56 sightings of five species of odontocetes: spinner dolphins (30 sightings); bottlenose dolphins (14 sightings); short-finned pilot whales (6 sightings); rough-toothed dolphins (5 sightings); and pantropical spotted dolphins (1 sighting). One hundred and five biopsy samples were collected and 14,960 photographs were taken to document morphology and for individual photo-identification. Photographs of distinctive individuals of three species (bottlenose dolphins, 76 identifications; rough-toothed dolphins, 157 identifications; short-finned pilot whales, 68 identifications) were compared to catalogs of these species from a survey off Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau in 2003, as well as from efforts off O‘ahu, Maui/Lana‘i and the island of Hawai‘i. Within- and between-year matches were found for all three species with individuals previously identified off Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, though no matches were found with individuals off any of the other islands. This suggests site fidelity to specific island areas, and population structure among island areas for all three species. Movements of photographically identified bottlenose dolphins were documented between deep water areas off the islands of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, as well as between shallow (<350 m) and deep (>350 m) waters. A lack of sightings or reports of false killer whales off Kaua‘i or Ni‘ihau during our study, combined with documented movements among the other main Hawaiian Islands, suggest that there is no “resident” population of false killer whales that inhabits waters only off Kaua‘i or Ni‘ihau  


Baird, R.W., G.S. Schorr, D.L. Webster, S.D. Mahaffy, A.B. Douglas, A.M. Gorgone, and D.J. McSweeney. 2006. A survey for odontocete cetaceans off Kaua’i and Ni’ihau, Hawai’i, during October and November 2005: evidence for population structure and site fidelity. Report to Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries, under Order No. AB133F05SE5197 with additional support from the Marine Mammal Commission and Dolphin Quest.

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