Assessing the Impacts of Human Activities on Whales and Dolphins

The goal of this study is to measure the impact that human activities, such as climate change, vessel traffic, fisheries, and marine tourism can have on the target populations and use scientific data to advise stakeholders on best practices and sustainable co-existence.

Whales and dolphins face a variety of impacts, which are primarily related to human activities. The growth of human coastal populations, infrastructure, and maritime transport in  conjunctions with increased demand for seafood has led to increased risks for whales and dolphins such as entanglements, ship strikes, and habitat loss.

Marine Tourism

Wildlife watching is a multi-billion dollar industry that spans the globe and can have potentially negative impacts on the targeted species. However, conservation education, regulation compliance, and continued monitoring and research contribute to the positive impacts of  marine tourism. Any activity on the water has the potential to cause disturbance to the whales and, as such, we are studying the impacts of whale watching and how to quantify this type of  disturbance. These findings are incorporated into our Be Whale Aware code of conduct to minimize the impact of whale watching.

Spinner dolphins in Hawaiʻi exhibit a predictable daily diurnal behavioral pattern which makes them vulnerable to human disturbance, feeding at night in deeper offshore waters and resting during daytime in shallow coves and bays. Our research focuses on providing science-based recommendations for management as well as evaluating the efficacy of the enhanced management measures after their implementation.

Fisheries Interactions

In Hawaii, entanglement in fishing gear is a growing problem. Fishing interactions have been observed for humpback whales, common bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphins, pantropical  spotted dolphins, short-finned pilot whales, and false killer whales. To quantify the extent of  this threat, we use our photo-identification catalogs to determine fisheries interactions by examining dolphins for mouthline scars, dorsal fin disfigurements, and other scarring. Knowing the extent of the problem is an important first step towards minimizing these injuries.

  • Recent Publications

    2021: Machernis, A.F., Stack, S.H., Olson, G.L., Sullivan, F.A., and Currie, J.J. External scarring as an indicator of fisheries interactions with bottlenose (Tursiops truncatus) and pantropical spotted (Stenella attenuata) dolphins in Maui Nui, Hawai‘i. Aquatic Mammals 47(5), 482-498. DOI 10.1578/AM.47.5.2021.482. Download PDF

    2021: Self, H., Stack, S.H., Currie, J.J., Lusseau, D. Tourism informing conservation: The distribution of four dolphin species varies with calf presence and increases their vulnerability to vessel traffic in the four-island region of Maui, Hawai‘i. Ecological Solutions and Evidence, 2:e12065. PDF

    2021: Currie, J.J., McCordic, J.A., Olson, G.L., Machernis, A.F., & Stack, S.H. The Impact of Vessels on Humpback Whale Behavior: The Benefit of Added Whale Watching Guidelines. Frontiers in Marine Science, 8: 601433. Download PDF

    2018: Currie, J.J., Stack, S.H., Brignac, K.C., & Lynch, J.M. Nearshore sea surface macro marine debris in Maui County, Hawaii: Distribution, drivers, and polymer composition. Marine Pollution Bulletin 138: 70-83.  Download PDF

    2017: McCordic, J.A., Currie, J.J., Stack, S.H., Kaplun, S.M., Kaufman, G.D. Land-based surveys to  determine effects of vessel presence on humpback whale behavior in Maui, Hawaii, USA.  Document SC/67a/WW/04 presented to the IWC Scientific Committee, Bled, Slovenia: 9 May – 21 May. 16 pp.

    2017: Currie, J.J., S.H. Stack, J.A. McCordic, G.D. Kaufman. Quantifying the risk that marine  debris poses to cetaceans in coastal waters of the 4-island region of Maui. Marine Pollution  Bulletin 121: 69–77.

    2017: Currie, J.J, S.H. Stack, Kaufman, G.D. Modelling whale-vessel encounters: the role of  speed in mitigating collisions with humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). Journal of  Cetacean Research and Management 17: 57–63.

    2015: New, L.F., Hall, A.J., Harcourt, R., Kaufman, G., Parsons, E.C.M., Pearson, H.C., Cosentino,  A.M., and Shick, R.S. The modelling and assessment of whale-watching impacts. Ocean and  Coastal Management

    *For a full list of our research publications, click here:

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Hawaii Visitor Update

Aloha, We Are Open!  Our PacWhale Eco-Adventures are open for booking as we welcome visitors back to Maui.  Quarantine restrictions were lifted on Oct. 15th for those following the state’s pre-arrival COVID-19 testing requirements.