Researcher on Board Program

Aloha to all of you,

Monday is the official kick-off date of our renewed and refreshed Researcher on Board Program. Three amazing ladies, Annie, Itana and Dominique are going to be boarding our whale watching boats in Ma'alaea and Lahaina to monitor marine mammals during the course of whalewatching operations. This is only one of the many research programs we will be launching this season.

The Researcher On Board (ROB) Program is designed to utilize the whale-watching vessel capabilities available at Pacific Whale Foundation to conduct non-invasive research using trained observers on board of commercial whale-watching vessels. The observers collect non-invasive data during the course of the normal whale watching operations and never interfere with the day-to-day routine of the whale watching crew nor dictate vessel behavior, speed, direction or course of action. Whale watching vessels hosting Researchers-on-Board comply with all the rules and regulations set forth by NOAA/NMFS and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

The overall goal of research conducted aboard whale watching vessels is to determine the potential effects of whale watching operations on the behavior and safety of humpback whales visiting the waters of Maui County during the winter breeding season. Opportunistic data on other species encountered during the course of whale watching operations are also collected. 

The main objectives of the ROB Program are the following:

1) Determine the rate of occurrence of “surprise encounters” (defined as an encounter with a humpback whale within 300 yds off the boat without previous knowledge of its position) and its relation to location, time of day, environmental variables, vessel behavior.

2) Gather opportunistic photographic identification data on resident odontocetes, prioritizing false killer whales and bottlenose dolphins.

3) Determine the rate of occurrence of interspecies interaction (i.e., two different cetacean species in close association or engaged in interactive behavior).

Between January and April every year we will be hard at work on this project. We will be posting information on all we see and hear out there for your benefit and information. Please check in periodically as Annie, Itana and Dominique report on their findings this coming season.