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The Story of Kama'aina
On April 15, 2009, Pacific Whale Foundation's Ocean Intrigue encountered a competition pod consisting of seven whales during a sunrise whalewatch out of Lahaina. The group was spotted off of Launiopoko Beach Park in West Maui.
Veteran Pacific Whale Foundation Naturalist Anna Garner captured a photo of one of the seven doing a fluke up dive, and submitted a clear image of the animal's unique tail fluke shape and pattern to our research department.
The team compared the April 15 photo to thousands of fluke identification photos in our Maui County files, searching for records of previous sightings of the animal, and they found a match! This whale had been spotted in Maui County before, in April of 1989 ' 10 years earlier!
Our research checked the data on the two-recorded sightings of the whale. All fluke identification photos filed by our research team include data on the data, time, and exact location of the sighting, as well as information on the composition of the group in which the whale was spotted and any other pertinent or noteworthy data. The data did not indicate whether the whale was a male or female; however, the team did find that the two photos of this whale were taken in almost exactly the same place.
The GPS coordinates for the two photos placed the 2009 sighting within a few feet of the 1989 sighting, both off of Launiopoko Beach. This remarkable consistency seems to indicate a high degree of site fidelity. In fact, both our own research and data compiled through the multinational, collaborative 'Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance, and Status of Humpbacks' (SPLASH) research project on the North Pacific humpback whale population indicate that humpbacks show a high degree of site fidelity in both breeding and calving grounds. It is possible that this particular whale demonstrates fidelity not just to Maui County waters, but also to a particular region off of West Maui within those waters.
We named the whale 'Kama'aina''child of the land.' Many people are familiar with the common usage of this term to refer to local residents; however, the word connotes much more than 'local.' The term 'kama'aina' indicates that one is native to a particular locale, and to be kama'aina to a place indicates that one is well-acquainted with it, even a host to visitors to the area. While we do not know where Kama'aina was born, the data certainly seems to suggest that he or she is 'kama'aina' to the waters off of Launiopoko.
Ongoing non-invasive research like that conducted by Pacific Whale Foundation and utilized in the SPLASH study is essential in collecting vital information about whale populations worldwide. Such work is especially important now, as pro-whaling nations push for sanctioned renewal of commercial whaling. Pacific Whale Foundation will continue to conduct non-invasive research on humpbacks in both hemispheres and to fight all whaling, just as it has for the past three decades. Hopefully our research in Hawaii will turn up another picture of Kama'aina soon!