False Killer Whale Catalog (click here for full story)

The Pacific Whale Foundation’s Research Team has had a great Maui field season so far.  Some scheduling conflicts prevented us from getting in the field this week, but that means more time in the lab processing the data we have been collecting.  Right now, one of our primary focuses is matching the False Killer Whale dorsal fin images we have been collecting in the field the past few weeks.

Hawaiian False Killer Whales are separated into two main population stocks, offshore and insular.  The insular population is the “near-shore” population which is estimated in numbers as low as 123 (Baird 2009-see below).  PWF has been working towards getting protection for this species in fear that they will be extinct all too soon.  We have “obtained over 4,600 signatures urging the National Marine Fisheries Service to list the false killer whale as an endangered species” says Lauren Campbell, PWF’s Conservation Manager.

Individuals from the insular population occasionally pass through Maui County waters, charming our research team and guests alike.  Over the past few weeks, there have been several reports of FKWs throughout Maui including several from our very own snorkel cruises and dolphin watches.  Ocean Odyssey reported seeing FKWs on August 23rd and 30th.  Ocean Quest reported 15 FKWs on August 29th and Ocean Discovery encountered 30 FKWs on August 28th. 

Our research team was lucky enough to experience two encounters with these amazing animals on August 23rd (see the story here - http://www.pacificwhale.org/content/false-killer-whales-foraging) and August 30th (see the story here - http://www.pacificwhale.org/content/mysteries-ocean-click-here-full-story).  During our encounters with FKWs we focus heavily on photo-identification images of their dorsal fins.  Each individual has unique notches and scars on their dorsal fin that help researchers identify them.  A few weeks ago, our FKW catalog had 71 unique individuals identified (that’s more than half of the expected 123 in the population).  Due to our lucky recent encounters, our catalog now has 75 individuals.  We sighted 4 FKWs in August that have never been added to our catalog!!  (#072 named Lau Pele, means Crater, is attached below as the third image.)

We were also fortunate enough to have resights…we were able to match several dorsal images to individuals already in our catalog.  One of these individuals is animal #004 in our catalog.  Named Pahu (Hawaiian word for “box”), this individual has not been sighted by PWF since February 1999!!  It has been nearly 13 years since we last saw this animal.  #050 is named Hoihoi (means “interesting”) and has not been seen since January 2000 (the first image below) and was now seen on August 30, 2012 (the second image below)!  The research team also noted animal #071 (Kau meaning “to rise up”) on August 30rd and matched it to its 2006 images.  Days later, a naturalist from Lahaina (John O’Leary) sent along photos he took on Ocean Quest’s August 29th snorkel trip.  He had several photos of #071!  This individual was seen two days in a row.

All these events have been significant in progressing our False Killer Whale research efforts.  The research team was so excited about these updates, they have suggested an Adopt-A-False Killer Whale program.  Similar to our Adopt-A-Whale, Turtle and Dolphin programs (http://www.pacificwhale.org/content/adopt-whale-and-adopt-dolphin), this program will be a great way to get involved in PWF’s conservation efforts to protect the False Killer Whale.  This program is only in its beginning stages, so keep an eye on the PWF webpage (http://www.pacificwhale.org/) and our Facebook page to see updates regarding this program.

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