Unsupported Browser Detected

Internet Explorer lacks support for the features of this website. For the best experience, please use a modern browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Edge.

Odontocete Detections Are Linked to Oceanographic Conditions in the Hawaiian Archipelago

November 20, 2023

Significant relationships with climate indices were found for many species of odontocetes and warrant more study in the Hawaiian Islands, particularly in the NWHI.

The Hawaiian Archipelago provides a unique study site for toothed whales (odontocetes), with at least 18 species of odontocetes residing in the region2. The archipelago consists of volcanic islands, separated into the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI, older islands) and the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI, newer islands).

Oceanographic conditions in these regions differ significantly, with the MHI experiencing high nearshore upwelling, regional fronts and leeward eddies, and increased mixing and turbulence in channels between islands that encourage relatively high primary productivity3.

This subsequently supports a variety of odontocete prey species (e.g., myctophids, shrimp, squids, cephalopods, and demersal and mesopelagic fishes). Nutrient input along coastal areas from frequent rainfall and steep island slopes also promotes the flourishing of odontocete prey; this effect is concentrated nearshore on the windward side of the islands but more dispersed and diluted in the islands’ lees due to westerly winds. 

In the NWHI, the contrast between inshore and offshore production is less marked because of eddies and a lack of above-water land mass. However, proximity to the transition zone chlorophyll front (TZCF) near the Subtropical Convergence Zone also results in higher productivity and increased abundance of odontocete prey species compared to the surrounding gyre.

The heightened production supported by these processes provides prime habitat for many odontocete species and results in numerous island-associated populations of various species.

Ziegenhorn, M.A., Hildebrand, J.A., Oleson, E.M. et al 2023. Odontocete detections are linked to oceanographic conditions in the Hawaiian Archipelago Commun Earth Environ 4, 423.

Last updated by Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center on 01/26/2024