Cetacean Forage Survey Underway off the Kona Coast of the Island of Hawaiʻi

Researchers aboard the NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette departed Ford Island, Pearl Harbor 17 March 2014 to conduct a cetacean forage survey in waters around the NOAA Kona Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) region off the western coast of the island of Hawaiʻi. The Sette will serve as a research base for a team of scientist from the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) working in collaboration with colleagues from the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaiʻi, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Marine Biology Program, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the NOAA Teacher at Sea program. The designation of this research project is SE1401.

During this 12-day research expedition, the research team, under the leadership of Dr. Donald R. Kobayashi from the PIFSC Ecosystems and Oceanography Division, will be working on two objectives to better understand the dynamics of this unique ecosystem. First, a standard Kona IEA oceanographic and active acoustics survey will be completed to extend the time series of this important survey initiated in 2011 and continued in 2013. This survey is focused on a set of 6 stations and 7 transect legs (see Figure). Second, a deep nearshore “hotspot” of cetacean foraging will be investigated by a variety of methodologies. Previous surveys have delineated a large daytime and nighttime signal at 400-600m depth nearshore using the Simrad EK60 acoustic sounder at a frequency of 70 kHz, suggesting a forage layer there where organisms are in relatively high abundance. Tagged cetaceans have been recorded feeding within this layer as well as both slightly above and below the layer, leading to many questions about the faunal composition of the layer and its relationship to key cetacean forage such as the large cephalopods known to inhabit this region. There are presently many questions about the identification, distribution, and abundance of the large cephalopod fauna in this region. To address this data gap, the SE1401 scientific field party will use a variety of oceanographic survey instruments and methods to investigate the forage layer and the fauna in surrounding waters, including active acoustic surveys; a marine mammal observing (MMO) team; a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) deployed from the Sette with both a navigational real-time camera and a recording stereo video camera system; a BlueView sonar imaging unit attached to the ROV; a Didson sonar imaging unit lowered on a CTD rosette; GoPro cameras; baited deep handlining and squid-jigging; and a Cobb midwater trawl. Additional passive acoustic devices for marine mammal detection include a small-boat deployed hydrophone and ship-deployed sonobuoys. This PIFSC project is very cross-divisional with active participation of staff and equipment from EOD, FRMD, PSD, and SciOps; as well as much participation from various University of Hawaii programs, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.

The active acoustics team is staffed by Adrienne Copeland (lead), Jessica Chen, and Aimee Hoover, and will be rotating to have a continuous around-the-clock operation. The MMO/hydrophone/sonobuoy team is staffed by Ali Bayless (lead), “Gadea” Maria Perez-Andujar Cavestany, and Florybeth La Valle, and will be working primarily during the daytime hours. The ROV team is staffed by Eric Mooney (lead), Jeff Anderson, and Patrick Murphy, and will be doing work at both daytime and nighttime until timing of the deep trawls and deep ROV deployments is better understood. The CTD/Didson/GoPro team is staffed by Giacomo Giorli (lead), Suz Acord, and Beth Lumsden, and will be working opportunistically attempting to acquire separate data for morning, daytime, evening, and nighttime. The trawling/jigging/handlining team is staffed by Melanie Abecassis (lead), Justin Kantor, Kevin Lewand, and William Truong, and will be working primarily at nighttime hours. Kantor and Lewand are also involved in an ancillary project to capture a live cookie-cutter shark for transport to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Cavestany is also involved in an ancillary project to survey crocodile sharks by deep handline.

In addition to the multi-faceted survey described above, the research team will carry out other ancillary projects including deployment/recovery of 2 High-frequency Acoustic Recording Packages (HARPs) used to characterize cetacean identification, distribution, and abundance off Jaggar Seamount and near Kona, Hawaii.

The initial web blurb is http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/cruise/se1401.php

Teacher at Sea blog is http://teacheratsea.noaa.gov/2014/acord.html

Our unofficial daily blog (by TAS Suz) is http://dkobayas.wordpress.com/

March 23 update: We have completed most of our IEA acoustic transects and much of our CTD stations. The remainder of the cruise will more heavily focus on ROV, trawling, jigging, handlining but with some acoustic transects, MMO, and CTD stations to be undertaken. Weather holding. Equipment working. Morale high. Deep trawl tonight, deep ROV tomorrow, fingers crossed…


Operational area of the research expedition in the Kona IEA region. The star symbols A-F indicate locations of the standard Kona IEA grid stations, and circle symbols H1 and H2 indicate locations of HARP deployments and/or recoveries. Some targeted research operations will focus on the nearshore stations (A & C) where deep cetacean foraging “hot spots” have been characterized previously.

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