Humpback Whale Research Project

Whaleman has been working with Dr. Marsha Green, Whaleman board-member and founder of the Ocean Mammal Institute (OMI), since 1996 on a research project studying the vocalizations and behaviors of humpback whales along with the impacts that vessels and engine noise can have on them. This study is being conducted in Hawaii which is critical habitat for the endangered North Pacific humpback whales with over two-thirds of this population utilizing these warm waters to breed and calve. Increased tourism and whale-watching boats and the attendant noise pollution is a source of stress for these acoustically oriented animals. This research is designed specifically to contribute to the development of management guidelines for whale-watching and other boat traffic around humpback whales in Hawaii and elsewhere. Another vital component of the research will be recording the composition, social sounds, and behaviors of various humpback whale pods utilizing an underwater video camera equipped with a very sensitive hydrophone.

Dr. Green’s research results have been successfully used in the past to protect whales. Her study on the impact of parasail boats on humpback whales was instrumental in getting the Hawaii State Legislature to ban parasail boats in critical whale habitat each year during whale season. Presently, OMI is using its data showing that the US Navy tests of Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFA sonar) in Hawaii in March 1998 were correlated with whales leaving the area to raise public awareness about the threat the this very loud sonar presents to cetaceans.

Collectively, our work has been disseminated via numerous newspaper and magazine articles and television coverage (CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC). Dr. Green has spoken about the effect of noise on whales at the US Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary headquarters in Hawaii since 1997 and has given numerous other talks in the Hawaiian Islands.

Our research results have been delineated to the appropriate agencies in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Tonga. These agencies include the National Marine Fisheries Service (they develop whale-watch guidelines in the US), the US Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage, (they set whale-watch guidelines around humpback whales in Hervey Bay and other parts of Queensland, Australia), Whales Alive in Melbourne, Australia (this group is working in Tonga to develop guidelines for a new whale-watch industry there), and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Ocean which is currently considering establishing regulations for whale-watching in Canada. These regulatory agencies can then use this objective information to develop whale watch guidelines that create the least disturbance to whales and will help to continue to preserve them and their habitats.