Your donation will help us continue our ground-breaking efforts to understand the behavior and communication of humpback whales and dolphins, to present our findings to the public, to educate people at all levels about dolphins and whales, and to ultimately help protect these marine mammals and their fragile marine habitats.
You can also make a directed donation to help support some of our current efforts described below.
Click the button below to make a secure online contribution
If you prefer to donate by check, please make it payable to The Dolphin Institute and mail to:
The Dolphin Institute, P.O. Box 6279, Hilo, Hawaii 96720
If the check is for a directed donation please indicate which initiative you are supporting in the memo line.
I. Louis M. Herman Research Scholarship Fund
In 2017, Dr. Herman’s family, colleagues and friends established the Louis M. Herman Research Scholarship to honor his legacy by promoting the type of research that was the focus of his groundbreaking studies. The scholarship, administered by the Society for Marine Mammalogy and given every two years, will be for US$5000. The scholarship will support a research project that contributes to our understanding of cetacean cognition and sensory perception (laboratory or field studies), or humpback whale behavioral ecology or communication. Work with other marine mammals that especially enhances our understanding of their cognitive abilities will also be considered. Eligible candidates include graduate students and those students who have completed their Masters or PhD within the past three years. Please help us continue to honor Dr. Louis M. Herman’s legacy.
II. EXAMINING HUMPBACK WHALE PHYSICAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH
As you may know, North Pacific humpback whales migrate thousands of miles each year between high latitude nutrient rich feeding grounds and low latitude warm water breeding grounds. That means that in Hawaii, the major breeding grounds for North Pacific humpbacks, other than newborn calves, the whales fast and must rely on metabolizing their fat stores for energy. Activities on the breeding grounds are largely devoted to calving, calf nurturing and rearing by mothers who extend their residency in Hawaii to 50 or more days sometimes to “beef up” their calves in order to survive the migration back to Alaska and other areas along the Northern Pacific rim. Mating also plays a major role in the behaviors of humpbacks on the breeding grounds with males, who may spend upwards of 70 days on the breeding grounds, actively competing with each other for key positions next to females that are presumably advantageous in securing a mating opportunity (the act of mating has yet to be documented in humpbacks!). We know from TDI’s long-term studies of humpback whales that body size plays an essential role in a female’s ability to produce a large offspring and a male’s ability to secure the position of principal escort adjacent to a female. We also know that females without a calf of the year are more attractive to males than females with a calf. However, we don’t yet know whether principal escorts have greater testosterone levels than males in other roles, and how female progesterone and estrogen concentrations vary in accordance with their roles and reproductive states. Also, we don’t know how whale health changes as the breeding season progresses and individuals start losing body mass. Now, for the first time in a collaboration between TDI, UH Hilo Marine Mammal Laboratory, the Marine Mammal Research Program of University of Hawaii at Manoa, the Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF), University of Alaska at Fairbanks, and Hawaii Pacific University, we are in a position to answer these essential questions about humpback whale health. From 2019-2022 in waters off Maui aboard PWF’s vessel “Ocean Protector,” we launched aerial unmanned drones to measure the body proportions and condition of individual humpback whales, photographed their tail flukes to determine identity and life history parameters, and collected biopsy samples to measure steroid hormones that indicate stress and fertility. We then compared these data with those collected in Alaska partnering with the Alaska Whale Foundation. The body condition of over 5,000 whales were measured and we obtained 500 biopsy samples. Together, these represent a one-of-a-kind rich database the promises to propel our understanding of humpback whale health. However, we need your help to fund the analyses of the biopsy samples.
At $60.00 per analysis with 3 analyses per whale (one to measure stress and two to measure fertility), this translates to $90,000.00. Thus far, we have raised approximately $10,000.00 with $80,000.00 to go. With your help, we can reach our goal and provide new important insights into humpback whale health that can assist in ensuring their future conservation and protection.
III. DISCOVERING THE HABITAT CHARACTERISTICS AND INDIVIDUAL IDENTITIES OF HAWAIIAN SPINNER DOLPHINS IN HILO BAY AND ALONG EAST HAWAII ISLAND
During the Summer of 2020, TDI launched a new effort to identify important habitat for spinner dolphins found off east Hawaii Island to learn how they use these often rougher coastal areas, and the degree to which the spinner dolphins found in bays and along the east (windward) Hawaii Island are different from those found off the west (leeward) coast. Hawaiian spinner dolphins are nocturnal feeders. To sustain themselves, they spend evening and early morning hours hunting offshore, and then return during daylight to shallow bays, coves and shorelines to rest and socialize. Daytime rest is critical to a spinner dolphin’s overall health and fitness, and may be compromised by chronic disturbance. Unfortunately, in recent years, Hawaiian spinner dolphins have faced increasing pressures in their resting areas from an increase in the number of people seeking close encounters. Understanding how spinner dolphins use the windward shores of Hawaii Island is critical, especially given that starting in May 2018, lava flows into the sea off east Hawaii dramatically altered the coastline including eliminating some shallow bay areas. In June, 2020 TDI researchers deployed under State of Hawaii permits four long-term autonomous underwater acoustic recording devices called “Sound-traps” to passively monitor dolphin presence and activities along the windward Hawaii Island coastline. These devices sit on the sandy bottom and record the acoustic soundscape which can include whistles and clicks from Hawaiian spinner dolphins and humpback whale song and non-song social sounds. After recording for months at a time, divers retrieve the sound traps, download the data in our UH Hilo lab for analysis, and then re-deploy the Sound Traps for another bout of recording. In conjunction with these underwater data, in July 2020, we launched a long-term effort to survey the Hawaiian spinner dolphins using a rented small outboard vessel from UH Hilo. Spotters aboard the boat scan for signs of dolphins and then when they are sighted, document their location, the time of sighting, their numbers and pod structure, how many newborn calves and juveniles are present, and the dolphins physical and vocal behavior. In addition, we photograph the dorsal fins of each dolphin, which serves as their identification “fingerprint” allowing us to document who is in the dolphin community, how they are sighted annually, and through collaborations with other researcher groups, whether any of these individuals are also sighted along the leeward side of Hawaii Island as well as the other Hawaiian Islands. Thus, our goals are to monitor long-term the daily, seasonal and yearly trends in acoustic behavior of Hawaiian spinner dolphins along east Hawaii, to learn about which bays, coves and coastlines serve as the most important habitat for these animals, and to create the first catalog of individually-identified Hawaiian spinner dolphins in Hilo Bay and along east Hawaii Island. Thus far, we have carried out 10 vessel surveys and have sighted spinner dolphins in 60% of these with pods sometimes exceeding 100 dolphins. This is a new pioneering effort to study Hawaiian spinner dolphins in waters where little to no research on any cetacean species has been conducted, and is already yielding exciting results. However, we need your help to complete our year of boat surveys.
The boat rental cost for each day of surveys is $400.00. Our goal is to carry out boat 2 surveys per month from January – December 2023 (12 months) for a total of 24 surveys. In addition to the surveys, we need the boat every 4 months to retrieve, download the acoustic data from and reset the Sound Traps (6 boat retrievals and resets per year). Together these amount to $12,000. Please help us learn about and protect spinner dolphins in windward Hawaii.