The Research Season is Here and So is the Incoming Director of Research

Aloha Members and Staff at Pacific Whale Foundation

I am delighted to be back in Hawaii. I came to Maui to lead the Research Department into a new era. It is good timing, because the Pacific Whale Foundation is celebrating 30 years of research, education and conservation and is preparing for the next 30 years of dedication to its mission. 

Here in the Research Department, we are gearing up for a busy whale season, and an equally busy period of data analysis and report writing. Thank you for your patience while we were in the process of reorganizing. You probably noticed little activity on this blog since October. I promise this is going to change.

Yesterday, we welcomed two new Researchers on Board: Itana Freire Silva, joining us from Maui where she has been residing for 11 years, and Dominique Richardson, joining us from California. Together with our veteran research staff member Annie Macie, they will be leading our efforts to determine the potential effects of whale watching vessels on whales. For this project, our team will be joining our whale watching vessels staff and monitor whale-watching operations while on board. They will be observing the normal course of operations without interfering or altering your whale watch experience. 

Since humpback whale numbers have been increasing around Maui, thanks to the protection afforded the whales by regulations around the Pacific, the chances of encountering whales at close-range without knowing that the whales are there, has also increased.

Our boats are very careful to follow the current regulations of not getting closer than 100 yards to a whale at any point in time. For this reason, our whale watching vessels' staff is always closely monitoring all whales present in the area to make sure they are detected before the boat is too close. 

However, whales sometimes spend long-periods of time underwater and may surface closer than 300 yards from the vessel before they are properly detected. We call these: "surprise encounters". In order to minimize the chance of surprise encounters, we need to understand when, where and in what conditions they occur, so that we can predict when to apply "extra caution" above and beyond the rules we already follow.

Researchers on board will be collecting data to specifically understand what the probability of a "surprise encounter"  is and which variables (sea state, glare, location, vessel speed and many others) affect the number of surprise encounters during a whale-watching trip. With better understanding, we will be able to introduce better management procedures for the safest whale-watching operation possible.

So, if you see one of our Researchers on Board intent at checking instrumentation and writing notes, you now know what they are up to. They will be happy to answer your questions at the end of the cruise when they are not busy monitoring the water for those surprise encounters.

In the meantime, check with one of our knowledgeable naturalists and they will be happy to answer all your questions about this project.