From Honolulu Civil Beat in Hawaii:
Cluster of False Killer Whales Tagged for First Time Off Kona
Rare group was photographed and tagged last weekend — the first time they’d been seen in four years.
June 11, 2015
By Cliff Hahn
In an exciting encounter with an elusive group of Pseudorca (that’s “false killer whales” in non-geek terms), a team of biologists from Cascadia Research Collective were able to tag three of the cetaceans (marine species that includes whales, dolphins, and porpoises) which will enable satellite tracking of their movements throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Each tag is attached remotely (smart idea) and will provide GPS coordinates 10 to 12 times a day for the next few months.
The team was also able to photograph about 20 different individuals and will compare them to an existing photo catalog. “Every adult in the population is distinctive,” says Dr. Robin Baird, a research biologist with Cascadia, the non-profit organization that is leading the research. “We’ve already discovered that one of the individuals photographed was first documented in 1986, twenty-nine years ago.”
But where are they going next? That’s anyone’s guess.
False killer whales have not been studied much in the wild — which is why last weekend’s tagging is so important. In November 2012, the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recognized the Hawaiian population of false killer whales, which numbers around 150 individuals, as endangered. Historically, the species was thought extinct until the discovery of a large cluster in the Baltic Sea’s Kiel Bay in 1861.
Researchers refer to false killer whale “social clusters”, which are like killer whale “pods” – long-term groupings of closely related individuals who tend to stick together. “Cluster 1” and “Cluster 3” whales are seen a few times a year. But the recently tagged whales are part of “Cluster 2” and hadn’t been seen by anyone in nearly four years. Hawaii’s false whale population is unique, since they remain within 70 miles of the state’s shore.
“We’ve been hoping to find Cluster 2 for years, but they obviously spend very little time on the leeward sides of the islands where our research is based,” says Baird. “Saturday was our last day on the water and the winds were calm, so we were able to spend time in deep water north of Kona, an area we rarely get to.”
The research project was funded by grants from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center of NOAA Fisheries and the Hawaii Ocean Project, and was undertaken in collaboration with the National Marine Sanctuary.