Posted on: December 11, 2014

Sperm Whale Sighting by PWF Researchers

Thursday morning, December 4, 2014, the Pacific Whale Foundation crew aboard Ocean Explorer sighted a sperm whale in approximately 100 feet of water about one mile outside of Ma'alaea Harbor. This is not typical for a sperm whale as they are usually found in deep, offshore waters or near deep ledges, such as the Kona coast of Hawai'i island. Sperm whales are one of the deepest diving and longest ranging cetaceans, and they are the largest of the toothed whales, or odontocetes.

Members of Pacific Whale Foundation’s research team onboard a different vessel, Ocean Liberty, were engaged in a whalewatch as part of the "Researcher on Board" program at the time of the sighting. They were able to photograph the sperm whale and observe its behavior. The whale did not change location throughout the day and did not appear to be swimming in any particular direction but simply milling at the surface. Its behavior was unusual in that it was not diving and frequently rolled on its sides. This may indicate the animal is sick or in distress.

"While it is exciting to see a sperm whale, we are concerned about the health of this animal,” said PWF research biologist, Stephanie Currie. “We did not observe any obvious signs of trauma or illness, but to see a sperm whale in this relatively shallow water in unusual and that leads us to believe this animal may be unwell." In July 2014, another sperm whale came into Maui leeward waters and died shortly after. Last Christmas Day, a sick and pregnant dwarf sperm whale beached itself in Kihei.

Pacific Whale Foundation urges anyone who spots the sperm whale to contact the research department at 808-856-8305 so that they can further monitor the whale’s movements and behaviors. You can also report whales that are in distress or stranded to NOAA’s Maui Marine Mammal Response Program at 808-292-237 or 888-256-9840.

For more information about Pacific Whale Foundation or to experience a whalewatch on Maui, please visit http://www.pacificwhale.org or call 808-249-8811 ext. 1

Photos: Erin Lodi, Pacific Whale Foundation