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Whale researchers present factors to fewer sightings

Jens Currie

Three humpback whale researchers will be presenting information on a collaborative study on factors contributing to the decline in observed sighting rates of humpback whales in Hawaii and Alaska from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Maui Ocean Center.

This event is free and open to the public as part of Maui Nui Marine Resource Council’s “Know Your Ocean Speaker Series.” It will take place at The Sphere at Maui Ocean Center. Seating is limited; advance reservations are recommended.

Presenters will include Jens Currie, chief scientist at Pacific Whale Foundation; Adam Pack, Ph.D., a full professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo; and Lars Bejder, director of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

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 Hawaii and Alaska.

“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,” said Stephanie Slack, PWF chief biologist. “Working with the University of Hawaii at Manoa Marine Mammal Research Program, the University of Hawaii 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 Hawaii and Alaska.”

In 2016, the Hawaii distinct population segment of humpback whales was taken off the endangered species list. However, since then, sighting rates of humpback whales in Hawaii and southeast Alaska have dropped, said Slack. There is currently a lack of understanding of why humpback whale sighting rates have declined.

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 said. “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 Hawaii and Alaska.”

The “Know Your Ocean Speaker Series” is presented by Maui Nui Marine Resource Council to introduce the public to marine research and conservation efforts to protect Maui’s ocean resources. This series offers a free presentation every month, and is supported by the Maui County Office of Economic Development.

To learn more, visit www.mauireefs.org.

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