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A couple of weeks ago I introduced our Researcher on Board Program. This week I would like to introduce another program. The official title of the program is Odontocete Project, but it will be subdivided into several sub-projects. Odontocete is the category of marine mammals which includes all toothed whales (Odonto = toothed). There are several species gracing Hawaiian waters with their presence. What is special about odontocetes here in Hawaii is that most of them are true Kama'aina (dwellers of the land, well in this case of the waters around the land). They are in Hawaii year round. The reason most of us do not see them often is because they are harder to spot in the windy and often choppy waters of Maui, but they are there, somewhere, all the times.
There is relatively little known about most of the odontocetes that live here and the most studied have been spinner dolphins in specific areas of the Hawaiian Islands. Pacific Whale Foundation has done several studies of odontocetes over the years. We are going to go deeper into this in the coming future.
The Odontocete Project started last year as a Pilot Project to determine when and where odontocetes were seen in Maui county waters. This year we are going to continue looking at this and expand our goals to look at more specific questions for some species.
We will be doing dedicated surveys along pre-determined transect lines covering five important regions of Maui County National Marine Sanctuary waters. We would like to know where, within the five water regions we identified, certain species of odontocetes are found and how that relates to environmental variables.
We also want to look more in depth at the social structure of the bottlenose dolphin population found within Maui waters. We already have accumulated a significant catalog of dorsal fin identifications for these animals and we know many of them reside in Maui waters for long periods of time.
Another focus is going to be the false killer whale, the second largest dolphin species. There are two distinct genetic stocks in Hawaii, the insular (or island associated) stock and the pelagic (or offshore) stock. Both are fairing pretty badly in Hawaiian waters and the former is being considered for listing as an endangered species (only over one hundred animals left). Please read about it on our web site as we have a pretty big campaign to protect these animals. False killer whales are hard to find because they are becoming rare, but our whale watch crews have seen them about 25 times last year. We are hoping to encounter them and, when we do, we will concentrate of following them to determine their behavior and how it relates to habitat and other factors. We would also like to find out more about their social structure and their feeding habits.
Please follow us as we narrate for you of our adventures on our research boat, which is a separate vessel and is not involved in whale watching operations.