Photo Journal: Whales and Dolphins Around Hawai'i During Winter

January 24, 2020

A winter survey for whales and dolphins around the main Hawaiian Islands.

A humpback whale and the Oscar Elton Sette in Hawaiian waters. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Adam Ü.

A humpback whale and the Oscar Elton Sette in Hawaiian waters. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Adam Ü.

The 2020 Winter Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey, or "WHICEAS," is a survey for cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and seabirds around the main Hawaiian Islands during the winter season. From mid-January to mid-March, we will conduct visual observations to estimate group size, photograph individuals, collect biopsy samples, and deploy satellite tags; and record cetacean vocalizations with a towed hydrophone array, sonobuoys, and drifting acoustic recorders.

Humpbacks Sighted Near Niʻihau

The project begins with many sightings of humpback whales in waters north of Kauai and Niihau. Here's a humpback whale seen in waters northwest of Niihau on January 21, 2020, with the NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette in the distance. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Andrea Bendlin.

The project begins with many sightings of humpback whales in waters north of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau. Here's a humpback whale in waters northwest of Niʻihau on January 21, 2020, with the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette in the distance. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Andrea Bendlin.

First Small Boat Operations of the Season

With beautiful weather conditions, we were able to launch the small boat for the opportunity to take identification photos, collect biopsy samples, or deploy satellite tags. The small boat crew returns with big smiles after a successful afternoon working around humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Allan Ligon.

Beautiful weather conditions enabled us to launch the small boat where we have a chance to take identification photos, collect biopsy samples, or deploy satellite tags. The small boat crew returns with big smiles after a successful afternoon working around humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Allan Ligon.

Evening DASBR Prep for Early Morning Deployment

In addition to standard visual and acoustic operations, we will deploy a handful of stand-alone acoustic buoys that drift with the current -- we call these instruments Drifting Acoustic Spar Buoy Recorders (DASBRs). Our team gets the next DASBR unit ready on the evening before an early morning deployment. After a few weeks, the ship will relocate this DASBR and recover it so we can download its data. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Suzanne Yin.

In addition to standard visual and acoustic operations, we will deploy a handful of stand-alone acoustic buoys that drift with the current—we call these instruments drifting acoustic spar buoy recorders (DASBRs). Our team gets the next DASBR unit ready on the evening before an early morning deployment. After a few weeks, the ship will locate this DASBR and retrieve it so we can download its data. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Suzanne Yin.

Retrieving a DASBR After 4 Days Adrift

Lead Fisherman, Mills Dunlap, retrieves a DASBR (Drifting Acoustic Spar Buoy Recorder) that was deployed in deep waters four days ago. The biggest benefit for DASBRs are to collect acoustic data independently from the ship, thus collecting data less affected by vessel disturbance. NOAA Fisheries/Suzanne Yin.

Lead Fisherman, Mills Dunlap, retrieves a DASBR that was deployed in deep water 4 days ago. The biggest benefit we get from DASBRs are the acoustic data they collect independently from the ship. This way, we can collect data and avoid disturbing our subjects. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Suzanne Yin.

Laysan Albatross in the Breeze

After wandering the North Pacific Basin during the summer months, Laysan Albatross are returning to their Hawaiian nesting islands. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Michael Force.

After wandering the North Pacific Basin during the summer months, Laysan albatross are returning to their Hawaiian nesting islands. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Michael Force.

Kilauea Lighthouse from the Sea

Kilauea Lighthouse, Kauai, as seen from the Oscar Elton Sette. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Christopher Hoefer.

Kilauea Lighthouse, Kauaʻi, as seen from the Oscar Elton Sette. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Christopher Hoefer.

A Quick Fly-by

A curious white-tailed tropicbird does a "fly-by" over the Sette. Tropicbird tails can be up to 18 inches long! Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Michael Force.

A curious white-tailed tropicbird does a "fly-by" over the Sette. Tropicbird tails can be up to 18 inches long! Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Michael Force.

Sei Whale Sightings!

Sei whales are baleen whales ranging from 45-60 ft long. We have already had multiple sei whale sightings on WHICEAS, which is MUCH more than expected given low sighting numbers on previous PIFSC Hawaiian Islands Surveys. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Christopher Hoefer.

Sei whales are baleen whales ranging from 45 to 60 feet long. We have already seen multiple sei whales on WHICEAS, which is much more than expected given low sighting numbers on previous Hawaiian Islands surveys. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Christopher Hoefer.

"Jack Staff for Two, Please!"

A pair of brown boobies took residence on the ship's jack staff today. In addition to catching flying fish and painting the bow white, the birds spent the day squabbling at each other with the characteristic “honking” calls that identity them as females (the male call is a high pitched whistle). Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Christopher Hoefer.

One of a pair of brown boobies who took residence on the ship's jack staff today. In addition to catching flying fish and painting the bow white, the birds spent the day squabbling at each other. The females have characteristic “honking” calls, while the male call is a high-pitched whistle. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Christopher Hoefer.

Deploying the Enhanced DASBR Unit (a.k.a. the "DASBR+")

The acoustics and deck crews deploy a DASBR+ that was modified with help from the PIFSC Science Operations fabrication team.  This DASBR includes lights and an AIS system for improved nighttime retrieval. Photo: NOAA Fisheries.

The acoustics and deck crews deploy a DASBR+ that our science operations team helped fabricate. This DASBR includes lights and an automatic identification system for improved nighttime retrieval. Photo: NOAA Fisheries.

Putting on a Show

Rough-toothed dolphins swim circles around a group of humpback whales near Penguin Bank. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Andrea Bendlin.

Rough-toothed dolphins swim circles around a group of humpback whales near Penguin Bank. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Andrea Bendlin.

Last updated by Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center on February 06, 2020