Biology and Recovery Status of False Killer Whales in Hawai’i

The goal of this study is to monitor the status of an endangered false killer whale population and provide scientific data to guide their recovery and inform conservation strategies.

False killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) are a large species of dolphin and are sometimes referred to as “blackfish”. Their name originates from their discovery: they were first described based on fossils and their skull and teeth resemble that of killer whales, so they were named the false killer whales. It is estimated there are 150-200 individuals in the main Hawaiian Islands population, which was listed as “endangered” in 2012. Our research involves locating the endangered population of false killer whales in the Maui Nui region and collecting data to learn more about them and contribute to their recovery.

In order to better inform about and contribute toward the recovery of the main Hawaiian Islands population of false killer whales, we monitor trends in their abundance,  movements, health and population status. Dedicated research surveys are conducted in the Maui Nui region and extend up to 50 miles offshore. Our dedicated research surveys are supplemented by donated ID photos and by sightings collected aboard platforms of opportunity. Searches for false killer whales are opportunistic in nature to maximize the geographic scope of the study area. In addition to our surveys, we will launch a “rapid response” anytime we are notified of sightings in our study area. We encourage ocean users to report their false killer whale sightings to our hotline, 808-HELP-FKW, so that we can launch our dedicated research vessel when false killer whales are within Maui Nui waters, enabling us to collect much-needed scientific data.

We collect a variety of data to gain a broad understanding of individual and population-level metrics, including photo-identification, biological samples, and UAS (unoccupied aerial system; drone) morphometrics.

  • Project Partners

    Robin Baird, Cascadia Research Collective

    Lars Bejder, Marine Mammal Research Program, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

  • Recent Publications

    2019: Stack, S.H., Currie, J.J., McCordic, J.A. & Olson, G.L. Incidence of odontocetes with dorsal fin collapse in Maui Nui, Hawaii. Aquatic Mammals 45(3) 257-265.

    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.

    2013: Silva, I.F., Kaufman, G.D., Rankin, R.W., and Maldini, D. Presence and Distribution of  Hawaiian False Killer Whales (Pseudorca crassidens) in Maui County Waters: A Historical Perspective. Aquatic Mammals 39(4): 409-414.

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

  • Videos

  • Educational Materials (click to enlarge)


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.