Aloha, I just finished up two exciting weeks studying early season humpback whales off west Maui! This year, TDI is continuing its collaborative research on humpback whale health with University of Hawaii at Hilo, the Marine Mammal Research Program of University of Hawaii at Manoa, Pacific Whale Foundation, Alaska Whale Foundation, University of Alaska, Fairbanks and Hawaii Pacific University. Our goal is to learn about the physical and reproductive health of the Hawaii Distinct Population segment of North Pacific Humpback Whales by measuring how the body condition, fertility levels and indicators of stress change while calves are nursing and other whales are fasting over the course of a breeding season. We also examine how these same parameters compare with those from the same whales in the feeding grounds of Southeast Alaska. The work involves a true team effort and incredible coordination, especially amidst the COVID pandemic where we form tiny research team bubbles and wear masks. After sighting a pod and determining its composition, we launch a drone which hovers over each whale when it surfaces to measure its body condition. Simultaneously, we give the whales temporary names based on the unique shapes of their dorsal fins (allowing us to link all streams of data to a named whale), and take tail fluke identification images of individual whales when they dive. Once the drone returns and we can recognize the individual whales by sight, we carefully extract a tiny piece of blubber and skin from each whale using an arrow with a sterile stainless-steel tip projected from a cross-bow. The preliminary results are providing important insights into the rates of maternal energy exchange as fasting moms lose body condition their calves grow, how male and female fertility levels vary as a function of size, social role and reproductive condition, and how we might be able to detect through tissue samples whales whose health or well-being have been compromised. Stay tuned! In March, TDI will be back in Maui with the team for the second half of the breeding season. Wishing you all good health and peace, Adam
About Adam Pack
Aloha! I am Dr. Adam A. Pack, a Full Professor at University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo (UH Hilo) with a joint appointment in the Departments of Psychology and Biology. I am the current chair of the Psychology Department, a cooperating faculty member of UH Hilo’s Master of Science Degree Program in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science, and the co-creator of the UH Hilo LOHE Bioacoustics Laboratory. Also, I am the former chair of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, an associate editor of the journal Marine Mammal Science, and co-founder and current president and director of The Dolphin Institute, a not-for-profit Hawaiʻi-based organization dedicated to dolphins and whales through education, research and conservation.
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