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.
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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. 2020 Aerial Surveys
In 1976, our co-founder Dr. Louis M. Herman pioneered the scientific study of humpback whales in Hawaiian waters with the first aerial surveys to learn about their numbers, distribution, and social organization. It is hard to conceive but at that time, just 10 years after the end of most commercial whaling, Dr. Herman estimated less than 1,000 whales in Hawaii’s waters. Since then, we saw what happens when conservation efforts work — the Hawaii humpback population rebounded. As of 2006, there were an estimated 10,000 whales visiting Hawaii each winter.
However, in 2016, we and others witnessed a dramatic decrease in the numbers of humpbacks visiting Hawaii. This reduction was also observed in 2017 and 2018 by researchers in Hawaii and Alaska. In the spring of 2019, in response to this trend, we worked with two of Dr. Herman’s former Ph.D. students to assess the humpback population by conducting aerial surveys over Maui waters, the first since 2003. Preliminary results indicate encounter rates similar to those seen back in 2003, which corroborates other evidence of decline. This overall reduction in humpback whales is of major concern, especially given that in 2016 the Hawaii population was removed from the endangered species list.
To help understand these new dynamics and inform management efforts, we need to build on our 2019 findings by conducting additional aerial flights in spring 2020. We are asking for your help to support our survey efforts. We have received an $8,000 grant, but we need another $5,000 to continue the work. Please consider contributing to our 2020 aerial surveys to help improve our understanding of the current status of Hawaii’s humpback whale population.
II. 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.
III. Analysis of humpback whale steroid hormones to establish how male humpback song reflects a singer’s fitness and fertility
Ever since the complexity of male humpback whale song was first described in the mid-1970s, the quest to understand its functions has been at the forefront of studies of humpback whale communication research. Our latest work on humpback whale song seeks to investigate how various acoustic characteristics of each singer’s particular version of the song, such as how loud it is produced, are related to that singer’s fitness (established by measuring its body size using our innovated underwater videogrammetry procedure) and fertility (established by measuring its testosterone level from a tiny skin/blubber sample we obtain using a sterile biopsy technique). The findings of this important study will establish whether humpback whale song honestly advertises a singer’s fitness and fertility to other males and females, and can be compared with the fertility levels of males that associate with singers, females that singers’ associate with, and males and females in other social roles and reproductive conditions. We are currently in the process of analyzing our bank of songs recorded from a variety of singers and measuring their body lengths as well as the body lengths of other humpbacks in different social roles. Our singer project is featured in the recent PBS television program, “Mystery of humpback whale song.”
Measuring testosterone and other steroid hormones from these singers and those humpbacks in other social roles relies on analysis from an outside laboratory at University of Alaska, Fairbanks specializing in endocrinology of whales. Each analysis of each steroid hormone costs approximately $60.00 US and to analyze the singer and non-singer samples we have thus far collected will cost approximately $5000. To complete this study on the function of humpback whale song, including comparisons of fertility levels of non-singing whales, we are seeking your support in helping us fund these steroid hormone analyses.
IV. Computer-based Whale Tail Fluke Matching Program
Individual humpback whales can be identified by the unique pigmentation patterns on the ventral surface of their tail flukes and the unique serrated patterns on the trailing edge of the tail. In 1976, Lou Herman began photographing individual humpback whales in Hawaiian waters and he and his continued this enterprise every year since. Now, with over 22,000 photographs of well over 5,000 whales, this precious archive has become one of the largest catalogs of individuals of any whale species, and is a vital resource for establishing individual life histories, reproductive parameters, migratory trends, habitat use, and behavioral patterns. However, achieving these objectives requires matching fluke images to each other, a task that has relied for years on the human eye, a time-consuming endeavor. We now have an exciting opportunity to purchase a computer-based matching program that would automatically match the flukes within TDI’s catalog as well as match new flukes as they come in. The cost for the program and its associated customized databases is $10,000. Please help us make the jump to a digital matching program.
V. Passive Acoustic Recorders (SoundTraps) for Mapping Spinner Dolphin Habitat
In Fall 2018, 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. TDI will be monitoring dolphin presence and activities using long-term using autonomous underwater acoustic recording devices called “Sound-traps.” These devices sit on the sandy bottom and record the acoustic soundscape. Thus, our goals are to monitor long-term the daily, seasonal and yearly trends in acoustic behavior of Hawaiian spinner dolphins along east Hawaii, and to learn about which bays, coves and coastlines serve as the most important habitat for these animals. The cost of each SoundTrap with extended battery pack is $4,300.00. In order to have ample acoustic coverage along east Hawaii Island, we are hoping to raise funds to purchase three SoundTraps.
VI. New TDI Research Boat
Since its establishment, TDI’s research has been carried out aboard two small outboard research boats, Kohola I and Kohola II. However, over the years both boats have aged and are no longer functional. In order to continue TDI’s long-term studies of humpback whales in Hawaiian waters, as well as to expand its research to other cetacean species, it is vital that we purchase a new outboard boat. The cost of the boat we have targeted that we would aptly name the “Louis M. Herman” is $100,000. We are excited to inform you that we have so far raised $45,000 and hope you can help us complete our boat fundraising campaign.