Researchers to Discuss Drop in Whale Sightings

February 1, 2020, 9:00 AM HST · Updated January 27, 10:36 AM
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Credit: NOAA

Three humpback whale researchers will be discussing a study that is examining the drop in humpback whale sightings in Hawaiʻi and Alaska.

This free discussion is a part of the Maui Nui Marine Resource Councilʻs “Know Your Ocean Speaker Series.”

The presenters will include Jens Currie, Chief Scientist at Pacific Whale Foundation; Dr. Adam Pack, a full professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo; and Lars Bejder, Director of the Marine Mammal Research Program (MMRP) at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

The researchers are collaborating on a project to gain an understanding of changes in the body condition of humpback whales throughout their feeding and breeding seasons. The researchers are also looking at the variability in body condition of humpback whales from year to year and how it might impact the number of whales that migrate between Hawaiʻi and Alaska.

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“Last year, Pacific Whale Foundation joined a collaborative research project to quantify the bioenergetic demands of humpback whales migrating between Alaskan foraging grounds and Hawaiian breeding grounds,” Pacific Whale Foundation chief biologist Stephanie Slack said in a press release.

“Working with the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Marine Mammal Research Program, the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, and the Alaska Whale Foundation, the project aims to identify potential factors contributing to the decline in observed sighting rates of humpback whales in Hawaiʻi and Alaska.”

In 2016, the Hawaiʻi population of humpback whales was taken off the Endangered Species List.

However, since then, sighting rates of humpback whales in Hawaiʻi and southeast Alaska have dropped. According to the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, there is currently a lack of understanding of why humpback whale sighting rates have reduced.

This project will contribute to efforts investigating the possible causes of this recent trend focusing on relationships to changes in body condition and animal health.

“Migrating has a cost to the animal’s body and health,” Slack added.

“Understanding this cost may provide insight into a potential shift in the whales’ survival strategy and an increased understanding of the recent trends we’re seeing in Hawai’i and Alaska.”

The presentation will be held on Feb. 4 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at The Sphere at Maui Ocean Center.

Seating is limited, so advance reservations are recommended. Click here to make a reservation.

 

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