With whales spending 90% of their time underwater, one of the biggest challenges for a whale behaviorist is to actually see them! Thanks to your generous support, we are now on the cusp of new discoveries into the underwater social lives of whales on the breeding grounds.
The warm, clear waters of Hawai’i make this one of the best places in the world to study whale behavior. It is one of the few places we can actually observe whales underwater, on the surface and from the air. Many research breakthroughs have come from of this unique natural observatory. However, since whales move faster than a person can swim, our understanding of their behavior is often based on pieced together, fleeting glimpses. Key questions remain – some as fundamental as when and where mating occurs.
To help answer these questions, this winter we will embark on a new project designed to bring together traditional research techniques (individual identification, sound recording and biopsy sampling) with new technologies (unmanned aerial vehicles and a mounted camera jib).
NEW TECHNOLOGY USHERS IN A NEW ERA OF WHALE RESEARCH
With the new accessibility of drones, unprecedented and high-quality aerial views of whale behaviors and interactions are now cost-effective and possible. Our new underwater camera jib, mounted under the boat, allows us to film whales moving at their natural speed. Together, these new tools promise to give us a new window into fast-moving social groups.
Instead of seeing whale behavior in brief moments, we can now capture longer sequences of whale behavior as well as interactions between individual whales. This is a tremendous leap forward—much like the first underwater photographs of whales in the 1970s and 80s, which significantly altered the world’s perception of these animals.
Our challenge is to compile as complete a picture as possible of the behavior patterns occurring in social groups on the breeding grounds. Capturing this in real time will provide a new key to understanding the nature of whales. It also will help set a new foundation of knowledge into humpback behavior for future management and conservation programs.
From the 2016 Whale Trust Maui Newsletter (November 2016). Click here to read more!