A Day on Kama V - Our New Research Vessel


The new research vessel is a dream. It is a 40 foot RIB (rigid-hull inflatable boat) with two 300 horse power motors. Kama V is silent, has a smooth ride and, most importantly, has enough space to comfortably fit our research crew and all the gear without worrying about cramped quarters!

Today, we motored to the beautiful island of Lanai. We are still in the initial phases of the panning for all the research projects we are going to be busy with for the rest of the year and it is important for us that all the protocols are in place and that we feel prepared for data collection.

In the next couple of months we will be joined by an Italian graduate student from the University of Milano, Italy. Maria Cristina will be working with us on a spinner dolphin project and we wanted to make sure we are prepared to guide her well during the six months of her stage with us.

Her project is entitled: "Influence of vessel and swimmer disturbance on Hawaiian spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris) resting patterns along the coast of Lanai" and you can read about it more on our upcoming new and revised web site.

So off we went to Lanai to visit the sites that Maria Cristina will use for her study and hoping, along the way to encounter dolphins to be able to test some of our protocols. There were four of us on board, Daniela (myself), Amanda Hutsel, Kristy Kozama and Tyler Pascual. The predictions for the day were northwesterly swells and a small craft advisory was in effect for the outer islands. We decided to go anyways. From my lanai I can see the island of Molokai and the water appeared calm and glassy this morning. We were hoping the awaited storm would miss us.

As we ventured toward Lanai we were pleasantly welcomed by calm seas, and the sun shined on our journey. It actually got quite hot on board as the day progressed but we all had a smile on our faces the entire time. The naturalists on the fleet of Pacific Whale Foundation’s eco-tour vessels were on the lookout for us and they almost immediately alerted us to the presence of spinner dolphins near Lanai.

As we approached the coast of Lanai that faces Maui, we found a large herd of spinner dolphins, accompanied by a couple of vessels. The dolphins were spread out and moving along the coast of Lanai toward Molokai. While most were spending over a minute underwater, some investigated the vessels and some spun in the air like spinner dolphins like to do.

We focal-followed the dolphins immediately. Focal following is a sampling technique were you stay with a school of animals for as long as possible and collect data either ad-libitum or at set intervals of time depending on the research question. In our case, we are interested in the behavioral budget of the animals over the course of the day and we would like to understand more about their movement patterns between Lanai and other islands. At five-minute intervals, we collected information about the behavioral state of the school by speaking into tape recorders and collecting many observational notes including environmental variables and GPS location. Two of our crew members also collected information on the activity state of the dolphins by marking down the number of slaps, leaps and spins counted during each minute of observation. Aerial behaviors are a gauge of the activity state of a school, with a high rate of aerial behaviors indicating a high level of “energy” and vice versa.

We followed the herd of dolphins from Lanai to the middle of the line connecting Lanai and Maui. The dolphins were moving slowly toward Kaanapali along the most direct route from the point where they moved off the coast of Lanai. Is this a normal route for them? Is there something special about it?

In the middle of the four island bowl, the dolphins met whales, lots of humpback whales. Every time a whale approached, the level of energy in the dolphin herd increased as the rate of aerial behaviors indicated. The whales seemed to be “hanging out” in the same area where the dolphins were and we wished we could see the interactions occurring under the water.

It was quite a pleasant sight. And we were also collecting excellent behavioral data, just floating at a distance and watching the events unfold.

We were not ready to quite leave the party, but we had work to do on Lanai where our land-based sites for Maria Cristina’s work are located. So, we left.

Another excellent day on the water…..