Hawaii & Alaska
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HI - Humpback Whale Collaborative Research Continues in Hawaiian Waters

Humpback whales are back in waters off of Maui after their fall migration from along the Northern Pacific rim, and the Marine Mammal Laboratory at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, is continuing collaborative research on humpback whale health with scientists from Hawaiʻi and Alaska.

During summers, the research team examines the same individual whales in feeding grounds off Southeast Alaska.

The laboratory was founded by Adam Pack, who holds a joint appointment in the departments of psychology and biology. On the team are Lars Bejder and Martin van Aswegen of the Marine Mammal Research Program at UH Mānoa, Jens Currie and Stephanie Stack of the Pacific Whale Foundation, Andy Szabo of Alaska Whale Foundation, Shannon Atkinson of University of Alaska, Fairbanks and Kristi West of Hawaiʻi Pacific University.

“Our goal is to learn about the physical and reproductive health of the Hawaiʻi distinct population segment of North Pacific humpback whales by measuring how whale 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,” Pack said.

The team also examines how these same parameters compare with those from the same whales in the feeding grounds off Southeast Alaska. Through the long-term continuous monitoring of the whales, threats or stressors to the population are identified to provide science-based recommendations on mitigation strategies and contribute to adaptive management.

The Pacific Whale Foundation said recent observations in Hawaiʻi and Southeast Alaska have revealed declines in sighting rates of humpback whales, with a 50-75% decrease reported between 2013 and 2018.

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