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Other Research

Health Assessment
Other Marine Mammal Research
Other Sanctuary-Supported Research Projects


Since September 2003, Sanctuary staff have supported the National Marine Sanctuary in American Samoa by conducting marine mammal surveys around the principal island of Tutuila.  These have focused primarily on humpback whales, as this is the only population of humpbacks under US jurisdiction in the Southern Hemisphere, but have also produced some of the first information about dolphins and other whales in these waters.  Download Samoa Project Summary.

Humpback whale tail in Samoa
Spinner dolphins in Samoa Routh-toothed dolphin in Samoa
Jooke Robbins, HIHWNMS Permit #774-1714
Ed Lyman, HIHWNMS IHWNMS Permit #774-1714
Jooke Robbins, HIHWNMS IHWNMS Permit #774-1714

Map of Samoa

With regard to humpback whales the project has focused on illuminating the numbers of whales that use American Samoa, what sub-population of the South Pacific they belong to, how many there might be, their use of American Samoa and its relative importance in relation to other S. Pacific breeding grounds.  To accomplish this, the data collected has been shared with many humpback whale scientists throughout the S. Pacific. 

Dorsal fin of whale in Samoa
Whale lobtailing in Samoa
Jooke Robbins, HIHWNMS Permit #774-1714
Jooke Robbins, HIHWNMS Permit #774-1714

So far it appears that, although the density of whales is much lower than Hawaii, the waters around Tutuila are an important breeding ground for this population, with higher densities than neighboring Samoan Islands.  Also, some individual whales that have been identified in A. Samoa have also been identified in neighboring Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia, but not Australia.  Work continues to determine their Antarctic feeding grounds by comparing the identification photographs gathered with those in the Antarctic humpback whale catalog.  This work is a collaborative project with the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources of American Samoa and NOAA Fisheries Pacific Island Science Center.

Map of odontocete sightings around Tutuila, Johnson et. al. in press
Odontocete sightings around Tutuila, Johnson et. al. in press
Map of research effort in Samoa
Jooke Robbins, HIHWNMS

Health Assessment

One of the responsibilities of the Sanctuary is to monitor the “health” of the humpback whale population that uses their Hawaiian Sanctuary.  This can be done on both a population level (e.g. abundance and trends), through the SPLASH project, or on an individual level.  In order to accomplish the latter, Sanctuary staff have been developing several new methodologies, in partnership with several collaborators.  These methods include using visual images of humpback whales and small biopsy tissues to attempt to assess body condition and potential diseases. 

Humpback in poor health.
Humpback whale in poor health
HIHWNMS, MMHSRP Permit 932-1489

To further the development of these techniques, the sanctuary co-hosted a workshop in 2006 with NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response program.  Also in partnership with the NMMHSRP, Sanctuary staff tested an experimental technique to collect whale breath, in the winter of 2007.

Sanctuary vessel conducting breath collection
Research colecting breath of whale
HIHWNMS, MMHSRP Permit 932-1489

Contributing to Other Marine Mammal Research

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary's Research Program also collaborates and assists other research that complements the Sanctuary's research mission.  As an example, the Sanctuary lends its humpback expertise in collaborative projects with NOAA Fisheries’ Pacific Island Science Center, to survey for humpback whales in other potential breeding grounds surrounding the main Hawaiian islands (e.g. the NW Hawaiian Islands).  Also, Sanctuary researchers have assisted a University of Hawaii Ph.D. student using highly specialized tags that record whale (and ambient sounds) and the tagged whale’s movement in relation to those sounds.

Humpback whale sightings in the NWHI.
Green line illustrates 21 degree centigrade isotherm.
Map of humpback whale sightings in the NWHI
Johnson et. al 2007

Researching tagging humpback whale
Allan Ligon, HIMB Permit#1000-1617

Other Sanctuary-Supported Research Projects

Learn more about additional research projects and related activities that the sanctuary has supported.


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