Odontocete Distribution, Abundance, and Life Histories

Project Name:

Odontocete distribution, abundance, and life histories. 

Study System:

Odontocete whales in the four-island region of Maui, specifically the following species:

  • Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)
  • Spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata)
  • Spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris)
  • Rough-toothed dolphins (Steno bredanensis)
  • Short-finned pilot whales (Globicepahla macrorhyncus)
  • Melon-headed whales (Peponocephala electra)
  • Pygmy killer whales (Feresa attenuata)

Motivation and Goals:

Relatively little is known about most odontocete species that are found in the waters surrounding Maui.  In order to better inform conservation and management of these odontocetes, we aim to monitor trends in their distribution and movement patterns throughout the four-island region of Maui.  


Using line transect surveys, we search for odontocete pods. Once a pod has been sighted, we leave the transect line to gather detailed behavioral observations of the pod for a length of time up to 60 minutes. During this time we also take identification photos of the dorsal fins and sides of the animals.  These photos allow us to build photo-identification catalogs for each species to estimate the number of individuals and how those animals move at large and small scales within their habitat.  

Results to Date:

We have preliminary photo-identification catalogs for all of the odontocete species in this study. 

The photo-identification catalogs are also used to update and maintain a history of sightings for our odontocete species available for adoption: bottlenose dolphins and spinner dolphins. 

Next Steps:

The research department will continue line transect surveys throughout 2018 and continue to build upon the existing photo-identification catalogs for each species.  Current research includes quantifying instances of flaccid dorsal fins in numerous odontocetes species as well as looking into distribution and associations of spinner, spotted, and bottlenose dolphins.