Sperm whales in Hawai‘i

A sperm whale fluking off the island of Hawai‘i. Photo by Daniel Webster. From 2000 through 2012 we've encountered sperm whales on 32 occasions in Hawai‘i, with sightings throughout the year (with the exceptions of February, March, August and September). We try to obtain photographs of the underside of the flukes for individual identification, and these are contributed to a photo-identification catalog at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California.

Adult sperm whale logging at the surface. Photo by Robin Baird. We are also using satellite tags (note the tag visible at the base of the dorsal fin) to examine movements of sperm whales in Hawaiian waters. Through the end of 2015 we've obtained movement data from 12 individual sperm whales in Hawaiian waters. Because sperm whales do not always show their tail flukes when they dive, we also obtain dorsal fin photographs to identify individuals.

Sperm whale traveling. Photo (c) Annie B. Douglas. The blow hole, located at the tip of the head on the left side, is visible in this photo.

Pair of sperm whales off the island of Hawai‘i. Photo by Daniel Webster. Sperm whales in Hawai‘i typically use deep water (our sightings range from 1,100 to 4,650 meters deep; average = 2,590 m) far from shore (our sightings range from 5 to 32 kilometers from shore; average = 19 km). Group sizes we've documented range from lone individuals to a group of about 35, and whales are often spread out over very wide areas.

A sperm whale breaching in Hawai‘i. Photo by Darren Roberts. We are also collecting skin samples from sperm whales in Hawai‘i for contribution to a large-scale study of population genetics being undertaken through the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Samples are obtained both from sloughed skin in the water and from remote biopsies.

For more information on sperm whales in Hawai‘i see:

  • Rone, B.K., R.W. Baird, D.L. Webster and D.B. Anderson. 2015. Satellite telemetry results indicate an open-ocean population of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) in Hawaiian waters. Poster presented at the 21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, San Francisco, California, December 14-18, 2015. Download PDF copy
  • Baird, R.W., D.L. Webster, J.M. Aschettino, G.S. Schorr and D.J. McSweeney. 2013. Odontocete cetaceans around the main Hawaiian Islands: habitat use and relative abundance from small-boat sighting surveys. Aquatic Mammals 39:253-269. Download PDF copy
  • Mesnick, S.L., B.L. Taylor, F.I. Archer, K.K. Martien, S. Escorza Treviño, B.L. Hancock-Hanser, S.C. Moreno Medina, V.L. Pease, K.M. Robertson, J.M. Straley, R.W. Baird, J. Calambokidis, G.S. Schorr, P. Wade, V. Burkanov, C.R. Lunsford, L. Rendell, and P.A. Morin. 2011. Sperm whale population structure in the eastern and central North Pacific inferred by the use of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), microsatellites and mitochondrial DNA.Molecular Ecology Resources 11(Suppl. 1):278-298. Download PDF copy

    For more photos and information from field projects where we have seen sperm whales, see:

    November/December 2014 field project

    October/November 2013 field project

    May 2013 field project

    October/November 2011 field project

    All photos are copyrighted and should not be used without permission. Contact Robin Baird (rwbaird (at) cascadiaresearch.org) for permission for photo use.