The Beginning of the End…of the Season: The 19-day mission to recover monk seal field camps and save seals

A beautiful morning outside Kure Atoll with Green Island in the distance.

This morning the sun rose into a clear blue sky, the wind gently tousled the flags on the ship’s masts, and the sea rolled slow and steady with barely a ripple on the surface.  These are perfect conditions for our first full day of real operations on the 19-day trip aboard the NOAA RV Hi’ialakai. The mission of research cruise HA-17-03 is to pick up 4 of our 5 monk seal research teams that have been deployed in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands since May.  The teams, spread across the islands and atolls, have been collecting important population data, vaccinating seals, cleaning up marine debris and doing some life-saving interventions.  But, now it is time to come home.

So, today the Hi’ialakai sat just off the western outer reef of Kure Atoll, completing a long day running small boats to and from Green Island and the ship.  The boats headed to the islands carried additional water and supplies for the State biologists who will overwinter there and on the return carried buckets of gear (lightly dusted by bird guano), solar panels, gas cylinders, reams of data and more.  The last boat of the day carried our first two returning field team members, Ilana Nimz and David Golden.

HI-2 carrying a cargo of buckets, dewars, and a variety of other gear that helped our field teams survive and complete their conservation science mission.

Our ever so precious crane on the Hi’ialakai. Without this glorious piece of equipment nothing could get done. It lifts the boats. It lifts the gear. It lifts the people. In crane we trust.

One of many bags of debris we will be picking up from the NWHI this season.

Each camp will have a summer’s worth of stories to tell and we are going to ask each camp to share their highlights with you as we move down the chain.  First up are stories from Kure Atoll, so read on below, and stay tuned to hear the tales of the other 2017 NOAA’s Monk Seal ARC (Assessment and Recovery Camps).  We hope to not only successfully retrieve all of our crew but maybe a monk seal patient or two for Ke Kai Ola.

 

Scientist David G. taking his first step onto the ship after months at Kure Atoll.

Scientist Ilana N. can barely contain her excitement at the thought of fresh greens, showers and air conditioning after several months in the field.

Ilana and David bidding a fond farewell to Green Island and Kure Atoll and turning south back towards Honolulu. Check out the continuation below to find out what their highlights of the 2017 monk seal field season were.

 

First up in a story from Ilana Nimz, one of our biologists at Kure Atoll:

The Sounds of Seals: The trials and tribulations of monk seal acoustic studies.

By Ilana Nimz

Ilana and her field partner David have spent the last several months at Kure Atoll.  While they had many monk seal adventures this summer, a unique component of their work was conducting an acoustic study. Here are a couple stories from their many hours of recording.

Kure is the only island this year that recorded Hawaiian Monk Seal sounds in collaboration with a researcher in France who is analyzing their vocalizations in conjunction with their behaviors. Armed with a recorder and a microphone (with a wind-block cover that makes it look like a kid’s karaoke toy) that gets attached to a telescoping pole and is propped near the seals, we set out to find animals that look like they will talk. Whenever we are trekking out to do a recording, the DLNR team jokes about what interview questions we are going to ask the seals. David, my Kure partner in conservation, developed a pretty neat survey shelter/seal viewing blind consisting of our aluminum tent poles and a camo-print bedsheet. If it’s camo, the seals can’t see us, right? Operation Desert Kure. For the most part the seals pay us no mind, but if they do notice us they tend to give us a bored but perplexed look during set up, then go back to their business.

As I was recording, two of the mom/pup pairs had a pup switch.  Sometimes, when multiple mom/pup pairs are in the same area they might accidentally “exchange” pups.  Other times, a recently weaned pup might displace a smaller nursing pup without mom noticing.  In this instance the pair we were focused on was resting on the beach and the other mom/pup pair entered the water about 100 meters away. The pup I was recording seemed to have noticed he was with the wrong mom and booked it towards the water and started swimming and calling for its real mom. I picked up the giant microphone, turned on the video camera (Breaking news story!!!) and followed the pup down the beach and watched a very confusing confrontation between the moms. There were lots of barks, growls, flipper slaps, and pups calling at each other while going between the moms (Drama!). Eventually, one of the moms raised her flipper and began slapping the water, which looked like a parent waving “Child, get over here! Get over here NOW!” and her biological pup happily obliged and swam off with her. Whew.

 

We then spent the next couple of hours trying to code all of those behavior interactions associated with the vocalizations  …even with the video supplement to the audio recording, it was quite a challenge.

During another audio recording session of a mom and pup, the pup got curious and hauled up to the microphone and started sniffing it. In the recording, we could clearly hear the “SNIFF… SNIIIIIFFF” while the mom barks at the pup in the background. Eventually the mom decided she needed to take control of the situation and hauled up to the microphone as well, and barreled into it with her back. The microphone pole rolled off of the crate it was propped on, abruptly bringing an end to that listening session. Well played mom.

Unfortunately most of the time, the seals choose to plead the 5th, except for a few sneezes and snorts. Even though the animals are silent, we wait for an animal to cruise by to instigate a reaction and get them talking! In the meantime, we enjoy observing the seals, birds, clouds and soak up the simple pleasures of life on a remote island.

Once our ship returns to Honolulu, the recordings and data will be sent off to our colleague so she can unlock the secrets of monk seal communication.  If you are interested in similar work that was done with Mediterranean monk seals you can check out this scientific article.

 

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How a Land-locked Teacher gets an A+ and Sea-Salty Memories for Life

By Amanda Bradford and Rachel Holton

When Staci DeSchryver–an Oceanography, Meteorology, and Earth Science teacher at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, CO–starts her Oceanography class each year, she warns her students, “If you think being an oceanographer means you’re going to be studying whales all your life, that’s not going to happen.”  She explains that while there are people who do study whales, the field of oceanography covers a wide range of topics, so as students and future oceanographers, she emphasizes that they will need to broaden their horizons.  Staci was ecstatic when she learned of her acceptance as a NOAA Teacher at Sea (aka TAS) for the 2017 field season.  However, she couldn’t help but be both excited and amused when she learned of her assignment–she was headed to Hawaii to study whales!

Teacher at Sea Staci DeSchryver uses “big-eye” binoculars to look for whales and dolphins from the flying bridge of the Oscar Elton Sette. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Amanda Bradford

Staci sailed aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette during Leg 1 of the Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey (or HICEAS) from July 6 – August 2, 2017.  HICEAS is a large-scale, 187-day survey to estimate how many cetaceans (whales and dolphins) are in Hawaii, examine their population structure, and understand their habitat.  Chief Scientist Erin Oleson was thrilled for the chance to have a TAS participate in HICEAS because of the unique opportunity to have a communication specialist share the science with a readily-available network of students, colleagues, and members of the public.  Ultimately, Erin and those of us on-board the Sette for HICEAS Leg 1 were pleasantly surprised to find that with Staci, we gained more than just a skilled and connected communicator; we also scored an engaged, dynamic, and invaluable addition to our team.

Acoustician Erik Norris and Staci prepare to deploy the hydrophone array for nighttime eavesdropping on vocalizing cetaceans. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Amanda Bradford

NOAA began its TAS program in 1990 and has since provided over 750 teachers from all 50 states, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and Guam with hands-on research experience working and living at sea.  TAS participants report a better understanding of ocean science and an increase in teaching ocean-related topics following their time as a TAS.  Collectively, the knowledge and stories these teachers gained from their TAS experiences have reached hundreds of thousands of students across the nation.  Staci is such a fan of the program that she has sailed as a TAS not once, but twice.  Her first trip as a TAS was in 2011, when she sailed on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson during a fisheries survey in the Bering Sea.  Returning as a TAS in 2017, Staci felt like she was able to make more of the experience because some of the unfamiliar basics of ship life were second nature and less intimidating.  On HICEAS, she already knew, for example, the ropes of getting food from the galley and how to quickly don a survival suit, so she was able to immediately focus on learning about the science and getting to know the ship’s personnel.

Once unfamiliar with a ship’s galley, Staci treated us to a delicious dessert with a little “help” from Medical Officer Hung “Doc” Tran. What dessert does a teacher make? Apple pie, of course! Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Amanda Bradford

Starting the Sette’s dewatering pump is not easy, as Assistant Engineer Jerry Frasier can attest to, but Staci said, “I am going to get this.” And she did. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Tim Holland

The Sette officers and crew seem to have a natural affinity for having a TAS on board and went out of their way to be open with and include Staci.  What made that willingness to share even easier was the incredible enthusiasm and excitement Staci had for learning about the ongoing operations at all levels, from searching for cetaceans from the flying bridge, to learning about navigation on the bridge, to testing the ship’s emergency alarms and dewatering pump.  Lead Acoustician Jennifer Keating noted, “I have never quite seen anybody take advantage of touring every part of the ship like Staci did.”  She was interested in all parts of the HICEAS effort, not just the science, recognizing that it takes the work of every individual on the ship to result in the whale and dolphin observations that ultimately get most of the attention.  This interest in the bigger picture improved morale on the ship because it brought people together.  When asked if having a TAS enhanced HICEAS Leg 1, the Sette’s Lead Fisherman Mills Dunlap answered, “Regarding having a TAS, yes; specifically Staci, double yes!”  Commanding Officer CDR Stephanie Koes agreed, “Staci was our MVP on this trip because she was so involved with everything.”

Although she spent time learning about all aspects of ship operations, Staci was an integral part of our scientific team.  She was a member of the unmanned aerial system (UAS) team, serving as a visual observer and data recorder when the hexacopter was in flight and taking aerial photographs over cetacean groups.  She also helped search daily for whales and dolphins from the flying bridge and was responsible nightly for deploying sonobuoys that detected and transmitted the sounds of nearby baleen whales.  Staci’s energy and curiosity made scientific work that had become routine seem fun and interesting again.  As a teacher, she knows that the ability to explain a topic or task increases one’s own understanding of it.  Her interest and questions gave us a chance as scientists to become more familiar with our work and appreciate it in a different way.  She also offered a new perspective on the results of our efforts that we sometimes take for granted.  While we had 46 sightings of cetaceans during HICEAS Leg 1, we expected to see more given the particular area we surveyed.  We occasionally expressed some disappointment about our low sighting rates, especially on a few long days when we did not see anything.  “Guys,” Staci reminded us, “I’ve seen more whales in the last few days than I have in my entire life.”  Thank you, Staci, we needed that.

Scientist Kym Yano, Lead Fisherman Mills Dunlap, Scientist Amanda Bradford, and Staci were excited to leave the ship for UAS operations from the small boat. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Paula Olson

For Staci, the opportunity to be a TAS has offered unparalleled professional development and, to some degree, has kept her in her career.  During her 14 years of teaching, she has craved opportunities for real-world experiences outside of the classroom.  However, both times she sailed as a TAS, she reaffirmed her commitment to teaching because she was constantly thinking about her class.  “This is why I’m here,” Staci stated, surrounded by ocean.  “This is why I teach.”  She looks forward to sharing with her class all that she learned during HICEAS, not just as specific lessons, but also as casual and funny stories that will trickle out over time.  Staci recommends the NOAA TAS program to other teachers without hesitation.  She advises teachers who are accepted in future field seasons to fully immerse themselves in the experience and not just report it.  “You bring something unique to the experience.  If you disconnect yourself from it, the experience gets lost in translation.”  “And,” she adds, “if you like it, go back.”

The Sette command holds a daily class to share knowledge and skills with each other. Where there’s a class, you’ll find a teacher! Here, Staci shows Commanding Officer CDR Stephanie Koes, Executive Officer LCDR Jonathan Heesh, and Operations Officer LT Aaron Maggied how to make bottle clouds to demonstrate adiabatic heating and cooling. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Amanda Bradford

At the beginning and end of each year, Staci asks the students in her classes to draw a picture of what they think a scientist looks like.  Each time she does this experiment, she gets almost exactly the same results.  In the beginning of the year, the students draw someone in a lab coat with safety goggles mixing chemicals in a beaker.  At the end of the year, they draw a regular person in casual clothes.  This year, she won’t be surprised if some of her students arm their end-of-the-year scientist with a pair of binoculars aimed at whales in the distance.  And that will be just fine with her.

Teacher at Sea Staci DeSchryver wrote a series of fantastic blog posts during her time on HICEAS–check them out here.  As always, stay tuned to the HICEAS website for updates on our survey!

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Rocky and Kaimana

Jessie Bohlander

On June 29th, 2017, for reasons we will never know, Rocky (RH58), a 17 year old female Hawaiian monk seal decided to have her tenth pup at one of her favorite haul out sites on Oahu: Kaimana Beach, on the easternmost end of Waikiki. Rocky has already had nine pups, all at Larsen’s Beach on the north shore of Kauai. When Rocky is not nursing a pup, she is seen around the east and south shores of Oahu but has never had a pup there. We knew that there would come a day when a seal would decide to pup on Waikiki Beach, and with that day would come a huge set of challenges. What we did not know was that this little seal would have an impact on the entire world and become an ambassador for her species in just 43 days. This is the story of Rocky and her pup Kaimana from the viewpoint of Jessie Bohlander, a member of the Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program:

On June 29, 2017, I was at a training with a group of coworkers when my boss checked his phone and let out an exasperated groan. A pup had been born in Waikiki. Since I’m not directly involved in pupping events, I didn’t think much of it, besides feeling glad that another pup was born this year. Over the next few days, staff from NOAA worked with the Hawaii Marine Animal Response (HMAR) group, the State of Hawaii, and Hawaii Ocean Safety to ensure that Rocky and her pup were given enough space on the beach and that the beach users were educated about the seals. This happens with all pups born in areas that the public can access, but there was a particular concern about human safety at Kaimana Beach. Any monk seal can be aggressive, but in the cases where a monk seal attacked a person, the seals were all adult females protecting their pups. Put a 600-pound protective carnivorous mama on a 500-foot stretch of beach with anywhere from dozens to hundreds of sunbathers, paddlers, snorkelers, swimmers, surfers, and kids in the water, and you have the perfect recipe for danger. It is a completely natural behavior and as a new mom myself, I can understand the fierce maternal instinct to protect one’s offspring at any cost.

Rocky nursing her one-day-old pup at Kaimana Beach.

As Rocky’s pup grew bigger over the next few weeks, the pair began spending more time in the water. A local news agency, Honolulu Civil Beat, also started streaming a live feed video of Kaimana Beach on their Facebook page. The first day I watched it, a blue beach ball floated into view and drifted along the waterline towards Rocky. She raised her head, vocalized at the ball, and then attacked it, popping it with her teeth. The deflated ball sank into the sand. It was a great demonstration of what Rocky would do if anyone or anything got close to her pup. A few days later, Rocky showed her protective mama side again. Kaiwi (RK96), another adult female monk seal who was molting in the area, swam close to shore where Rocky and the pup were resting. Rocky bolted into the water after Kaiwi and chased her from the area. Many people posted videos of the event on YouTube and Facebook, and even a local TV station, KHON, aired it.

Rocky defends her pup from a wayward beach ball.

About a week after the pup was born, NOAA staff (in partnership with Honolulu Civil Beat and HMAR) began streaming weekly live “pupdates” to let everyone know how Rocky and the pup were doing, what to expect as the pup grew older, the dangers of getting too close to Rocky, and to answer questions from the hundreds of viewers who would tune in each week.

Dr. Charles Littnan and Aliza Milette-Winfree doing a weekly “pupdate” live on Honolulu Civil Beat.

During the first few pupdates, two of the most common questions were about the pup’s gender and name. While most people were simply curious and wanted to know which pronoun to use, the gender of the pup has real implications for the future of monk seals in Waikiki. When monk seals are ready to pup, they return to the same beach on which they were born about 60% of the time. So, if this pup was a female, we knew that the chances of having another pup in Waikiki in a few years would increase and we would again be faced with all of the challenges and dangers that we are now facing with Rocky and her pup.

The sex of the pup was soon confirmed. On July 14th, we held an impromptu “gender reveal party” at the NOAA office, complete with ice cream cake. As the newest mother in the monk seal program, I had the honor of cutting the cake. I sliced into the cake to reveal the light pink strawberry ice cream filling. Rocky’s pup was A GIRL! The online community had begun to unofficially refer to the pup as “Kaimana” because of her birthplace. On July 25th, native Hawaiian practitioners and volunteers from HMAR who watched the pair from dawn to dusk officially named the pup Kaimana.

The Kaimana gender reveal party revealed the pup was a girl!

The live stream continued every day during all daylight hours. As Kaimana grew bigger, so did the number of visitors to the beach and online videos. People across the world visited the Honolulu Civil Beat Facebook and YouTube channels to watch Rocky and Kaimana. There were always people hungry to see more of Rocky and Kaimana, waiting for them to come back to shore after their daily swims to watch their interactions and to speculate through the live chats about what they were seeing. At NOAA, we also tuned in to the live stream. I have done my share of fieldwork and have spent many days, weeks, and months observing monk seals, but it was amazing to be able to see what they were doing hour by hour and day by day. I often found myself entrenched in the comments and live chat that went along with the streaming video. So many people had so many questions about Rocky and Kaimana as well as Hawaiian monk seals in general. I loved tuning in to the live pupdates each week to hear how my colleagues responded to the many great questions.

On Friday, July 28th, I was at home rocking my 9-month-old son to sleep while cruising Facebook on my phone. An alert popped up from Honolulu Civil Beat for a live video titled “Rocky is in search of her pup Kaimana who seems to have gone missing.” I clicked on the link and watched (along with hundreds of other viewers) Rocky hauling out on the beach alone and vocalizing with Kaimana nowhere in sight. A few moments later I got a text from our veterinarian, Michelle, asking if anyone was available to go down to the beach and see if we could help locate Kaimana. My son was just drifting off to sleep in my lap so the best I could do was watch the live stream and follow the text string from my coworkers who went down to the beach to try to locate Kaimana. Eventually she was found in the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial pool, an old salt water swimming pool adjacent to Kaimana beach that has been closed to the public for many years due to its dilapidated state. Before too long, our team was able to get access to the Natatorium and, luckily, Kaimana was hauled out in an area where the team was able to get to her. With the help of custodians, they moved her back to the beach where she was reunited with Rocky.

The final text of the string read “Liz confirmed that pup and mom are successfully reunited! Woohooooooo! First ever monk seal response on live feed. You guys all rock.” Indeed, that is when I realized we had entered a new era. Very often, our activities receive a lot of attention and press and we are always happy and eager to be transparent and informative about what we do with seals. But never before had one of our seal responses been broadcast live for the world to see.

The text from veterinarian, Dr. Michelle Barbieri, confirming that Kaimana had been reunited with her mom.

 

 

Over the next several weeks, Kaimana and Rocky were back in the natatorium two more times. Each time, they found their way out without assistance. There had already been discussion about what the plan was for Kaimana once Rocky weaned and left her, which typically happens between five and seven weeks after birth. The incidents in the natatorium sharpened a sentiment held by many that Waikiki may not be a good place for Kaimana to remain once alone, and served to increase the urgency of a decision. The risk of growing up in Waikiki was that she was very likely to have more interactions with people than seals. People playing with or feeding her could lead to behaviors that could be dangerous for the public such as biting, holding people under water, or preventing people from exiting the water. We have seen seals become too accustomed to people in the past, which usually leads to relocation of the seal to a very remote place or captivity for the sake of human safety. We did not want that to be Kaimana’s fate.

We knew that Rocky nursed her previous pups for 39 to 42 days, so we had a pretty good idea of when to expect Rocky’s departure and when we needed to have a plan in place. A team of experienced monk seal biologists and managers conducted a thorough risk assessment to determine whether and where to move Kaimana. On August 8th, a press conference was held to announce that once Rocky weaned, Kaimana would be moved to a location elsewhere on Oahu, keeping her away from the risks she would face in Waikiki with the ever-tempting Natatorium, the frolicking tourists, and upcoming canoe and paddleboard races. We had selected a few suitable locations and were going to make a final decision based on conditions on the day of the translocation.

The press conference announcing that Kaimana would be moved once she was weaned was live streamed from Kaimana Beach.

When a pup weans from its mother, our standard procedure is to attach tags to its flipper, implant a passive integrated transponder tag (similar to microchips used in domestic dogs and cats), and measure the pup’s length and girth. For Kaimana, we also wanted to apply a satellite tag so we could find her when she wasn’t in view, and give her a vaccination against morbillivirus. When planning any wild animal handling,  safety is the top priority over any data objective. We carefully plan out every detail ahead of time to ensure that everything goes smoothly for us and the seal. We did not know exactly when Rocky would wean Kaimana, but we knew that when we were sure Rocky was gone, we needed to make the move as soon as possible. The faster we were done, the sooner Kaimana could start acclimating to her new environment.. Many experiences translocating weaned pups had shown us that the sooner she was moved, the more likely she would be to imprint on the new location.

After the press conference, there was a lot of speculation in the live stream chats about when the pair would wean, when the translocation would happen, and where Kaimana would be taken. I found myself logging on first thing each morning to check if the pair were still together. I realized how accustomed I had become to having this direct link to Rocky and Kaimana.

On August 11th, when Kaimana was 43 days old, I returned from a meeting at around 2 p.m. and opened the live stream on YouTube. The video showed Kaimana by herself in the water and the live chat was moving quickly. Was it the moment everyone had been watching out for? Was Rocky really gone?

Rocky didn’t return that afternoon, so we started planning Kaimana’s translocation the next morning. Most of the team met at Kaimana Beach early in the morning, but my role was to assess a proposed translocation site to see if the weather and local conditions were good before the final move. That site was not chosen, so I watched on YouTube, along with hundreds of other viewers, as our team quickly scooped Kaimana up in the stretcher net and carried her to a cage in the back of a flatbed truck. She was then taken to her new home. The team said the tagging went perfectly and she was acclimating to her new home as well as we could have hoped for! Her shiny new red flipper tags gave Kaimana a new scientific ID: RJ58. I watched our staff updates and the videos posted by Honolulu Civil Beat of Kaimana in her new home, feeling proud to have been a part of the team.

The NOAA team moving Kaimana from Kaimana Beach on August 12, 2017.

Later that afternoon, a member of the Rocky and Kaimana Facebook group posted a beautiful picture of Kaimana on her last day at her birth beach. The caption read:

“I would like to say mahalo to all my island Aunties, Uncles, Keiki, and [Kupuna] for sharing a little bit of time, aloha, and overwhelming support over these last few weeks. They say everything happens for a reason, so I will let you in on a little secret, mama Rocky having me here at Kaimana beach and not on a quiet beach on Kauai was not an accident. I was born on Kaimana Beach to bring awareness to Hawaii and the world about us, the Hawaiian Monk Seal, and as you can see, it worked. For the time being this is my aloha to you.”

 

This post perfectly summed up the legacy that Kaimana has started by being the catalyst to spread the word about Hawaiian monk seals to the world. We could not have done it this way without Rocky and Kaimana. As one of my coworkers said, many of us thought that this pup in Waikiki was one of our worst fears come true, but these seals have made an impact on people far and wide in a way that we could not have done on our own.

Thank you Kaimana for helping to teach the world about your species, spreading the Aloha in a way that only a little seal can do, and helping to remind me why I do what I do.

All of the videos and groups referred to in this post can be found at:

Honolulu Civil Beat YouTube Channel:

https://www.youtube.com/user/civilbeat/featured

Honolulu Civil Beat Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/civilbeat/videos/?ref=page_internal

Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/HMSRP/videos/?ref=page_internal

 

 

 

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Get to know Hawaii fishing communities with just the click of a button!

This gallery contains 4 photos.

The Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center has launched a Community Snapshots Tool that describes 42 communities throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Check out what local fishing fleets are catching! From Hanalei to Hilo, you can easily view current fishing data. As you … Continue reading

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New NOAA Survey to Value Non-Commercial Fisheries in Hawai‘i

We know that fishing is important to you and is an important part of Hawai‘i’s culture. We also know that money spent on fishing is important to the Hawai‘i economy. You spend money every time you launch your boat, put a line in the water, or go out with your spear. Your fishing-related spending generates sales, income, and supports jobs here in Hawai‘i.

NOAA Fisheries is currently surveying Hawai‘i non-commercial fishermen to understand the costs of fishing for private boat, shore-based, and charter fishing trips. Additionally, we are interested to know how much you spent in the past year on things like fishing rods and reels, tackle, spear guns, and other fishing related purchases. Using this information we can show the economic value of non-commercial fishing in the State of Hawai‘i. This research will lead to a better understanding of how fishing’s economic impact may be affected by changes to the environment, regulations, and the broader economy.

NOAA Fisheries conducted the first national survey of non-commercial fishers in 2006 and again in 2011. These surveys collected information on fishing-related spending and were used to estimate their economic effects on the state and national economies. Many of you helped with these studies. For example, in 2006, U.S. anglers generated $82 billion in sales and $24 billion in personal income. Moreover, U.S. non-commercial fishers supported over 530,000 jobs across the country. For complete 2006 survey results, visit: http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/st5/publication/marine_angler.html.

As you know, the costs of fishing have continued to rise over the years and this 2017 survey will help us update our estimates of fishing expenditures and the economic impacts to Hawai‘i’s economy. Some of you will be selected to complete the survey online and others will receive a survey in the mail with a return postage-paid envelope. You may be selected if you are a boat owner registered with the State of Hawai‘i Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation; if you registered with the NOAA Fisheries National Saltwater Angler Registry anytime from 2010 to 2017; or if you have participated in NOAA Fisheries surveys and provided contact information in the past.

If you get this survey in the mail please consider completing it to help us better understand the economic importance of non-commercial fishing in Hawaii.

All personal contact information and survey responses will remain strictly confidential, and all results published from the survey will be in summary form. No personal information will be used or reported.

If you fish in Hawai‘i and receive a survey, your response is important! Help us to better understand the importance of non-commercial fishing to the economy in Hawai‘i. The more surveys that are returned, the more accurate our results, and we will have a better understanding of the benefits of non-commercial fishing in Hawai‘i.

If you have any questions about this project or are interested to learn more about NOAA Fisheries’ work in Hawai‘i feel free to send an email to: pifsc.socioeconomics@noaa.gov

For more information about other research from the PIFSC Socioeconomics Program visit our website or browse recent blog posts.

 

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HICEAS Hilite: Killer whales in the tropics

By Adam Ü and Paula Olson

The killer whale (Orcinus orca) may be the most recognizable marine mammal on the planet thanks to its striking appearance and prolific presence in pop culture (think Shamu, Free Willy, and Blackfish). If there’s one species of cetacean that everyone participating in the 2017 Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey (HICEAS) is excited to see, it’s the killer whale. Killer whales are infrequently seen in Hawaiian waters, and that’s why July 18, 2017, was a special day for the scientists and crew of the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette.

Most people think that killer whales inhabit cooler, coastal waters such as those found off the northwest coast of North America, Norway, or Antarctica, and they’re right; most killer whales prefer higher-latitude, near-shore habitats. But the killer whale has one of the widest geographic distributions of any mammal, and there are some populations that call the tropics home.

On July 18, 2017, we were cruising along northwest of Nihoa in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands, on the lookout for suspicious splashes, dorsal fins, shiny patches of skin, or anything that might indicate whales or dolphins were ahead. What we saw first were black and white shapes underwater, approaching the ship. Some of us held our breath. Could it be… black and white… killer whales? YES!!! The whales swam by the ship and then continued on their way. We broke our planned transect to follow them and collect data and photographs and were able to track them for nearly an hour, but the whales eventually eluded us in the windy, wave-strewn sea conditions.

Killer whales approaching the Sette northwest of Nihoa in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands on July 18. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Adam Ü

Because killer whales are encountered so rarely in the tropics, much less is known about them than their counterparts in other regions. In the northeast Pacific, for example, scientists have found that multiple populations of killer whales are socially isolated, make different sounds, and prefer different prey from one another, even though they inhabit the same waters. So far, the population structure and characteristics of killer whales found in the tropical Pacific, including Hawaiian waters, is mostly a mystery. Often called “marine deserts,” tropical pelagic waters are known for their low productivity, which likely means there isn’t enough prey to allow for the multiple, prey-specialized populations that are found in the productive waters of higher latitudes. Tropical killer whales are more opportunistic in their prey choices and have been seen to eat everything from octopus to sea turtles to dolphins. During previous encounters with killer whales in Hawaiian waters, other marine mammal species fled the area, so it’s possible nobody is safe when tropical killer whales are around!

Satellite-tracked movements have shown that killer whales in the greater Hawaiian region are visitors that pass through as part of a larger oceanic range that they cover. Despite hundreds of days of research effort spread throughout the entire Hawaiian archipelago, sighting rates of killer whales are low; fewer than 10 groups total were sighted during PIFSC ship surveys in 2002, 2010, 2013, and 2016.

We do know that killer whales found in the tropics look different from killer whales in the northeast Pacific. Like killer whales seen in other tropical areas, killer whales seen around Hawaii have faint to non-existent saddle patches (the pale area behind the dorsal fin). Adult males tend to have a shorter dorsal fin, proportionally, than their northeast Pacific brethren.

Killer whales sighted in waters of the northwestern Hawaiian Islands on July 18, 2017 (upper) and killer whales sighted in coastal central California waters in November 2014 (lower). Note the lack of a saddle patch on the whales in Hawaiian waters. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Paula Olson

The group we saw on July 18 was small, and we were able to photograph four individuals – an adult male, a juvenile, and two adult female-sized animals (sub-adult males are the same size as adult females before they “sprout” and grow their characteristic tall dorsal fins). Most killer whale groups sighted in Hawaii have contained less than 10 individuals, which is consistent with group sizes of killer whales seen elsewhere in the tropics. The low productivity likely limits the amount of prey available for apex predators such as killer whales. Since individuals in killer whale groups share their catch with each other, a smaller group is easier to feed when food is eventually found in these tropical “marine deserts.” The acoustics team on board reported that the group we sighted did not produce any sounds. Since small group sizes and quiet, stealthy behavior are traits of mammal-hunting killer whales in higher latitudes (in contrast to the fish specialists that often travel in large “chatty” groups), the noted silence may give us a clue about the preferred prey of the group that we saw.

We feel incredibly lucky to have had such a rare sighting, and we’ll be looking for more during the upcoming months of the HICEAS survey!

Killer whales sighted north of Maui during a Sette survey in July 2016. When and where in Hawaiian waters will they be seen next?! Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/ Adam Ü

Fun fact: Did you know that killer whales are actually dolphins? They are the largest dolphin in the taxonomic Family Delphinidae. There are other dolphin species in Delphinidae that are called “whales,” including the long- and short-finned pilot whales, the false killer whale, the melon-headed whale, and the pygmy killer whale.

All photos taken under research permit.

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