Research activities at HIHWNMS during the 2019-20 whale season

A man standing on a boat reaches a long pole over a whale surfacing for air

The song of the humpback whale is fascinating to listen to, but it can also give us an inside look into the life and population trends of whales. Researchers at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (HIHWNMS) have released a summary report detailing their activities during this year’s whale season, including their acoustic monitoring of Hawaii’s humpback whale song. Other areas of research described include suction cup tag deployments, vessel and shore-based surveys, and the deployment of an autonomous surface vehicle to survey remote whale habitats.

When placed on the back of humpback whales, instrumented suction-cup tags can provide insights into the lives of whales that are otherwise impossible to obtain through observations from the surface. The tags measure sound, dive behavior, and the whales’ three-dimensional movements, providing valuable data on the whale’s behavior for researchers.

To help enumerate whale abundance, shore-based and vessel-based surveys are conducted each season in a study area off west Maui. The data are used to compare annual trends in whale density and abundance.

In order to better understand the connectivity between whale habitats across the Hawaiian archipelago, researchers from HIHWNMS, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and Jupiter Research Foundation deployed an autonomous surface vehicle called a Wave Glider. The Wave Glider conducted a 67-day mission departing Hawaiʻi Island to document the relative occurrence of whale song from the main Hawaiian Islands through the monument.

Annual monitoring and research efforts provide an estimate of the whale presence in Hawai’i and a better understanding of their behavior and habitat use.

HIHWNMS constitutes one of the world’s most important humpback whale breeding habitats. Through these research efforts, we are better equipped to understand and therefore protect the environment and resources used by these magnificent mammals.

View the HIHWNMS Research Activities Report