Studies of dolphins and whales on and around the Pacific Missile Range Facility using photo-identification and satellite tagging: evidence for resident and non-resident species
Baird, Robin W., D. L. Webster, S.D. Mahaffy, A.M. Gorgone, E. M. Walters, and D.B. Anderson. 2017. Studies of dolphins and whales on and around the Pacific Missile Range Facility using photo-identification and satellite tagging: evidence for resident and non-resident species. Prepared under Contract No. N66604-14-C0145 from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center.
There are 18 species of odontocetes found around the main Hawaiian Islands, and 11 of these have resident, island-associated populations in the eastern main Hawaiian Islands (Baird 2016). Until recently, relatively little was known about the presence and residency status of most of these species in the western main Hawaiian Islands, in particular around Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau. The U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) is located off the west and northwest side of Kaua‘i, and is the site of regular Navy training activities, and it is therefore of particular interest to understand species composition, use of the area, and potential short- and long-term impacts of Navy activities on these species.
As part of a long-term study of odontocete cetaceans in Hawaiian waters, Cascadia Research Collective (CRC) carried out small-boat based field projects off Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau in 2003 (Baird et al. 2003), 2005 (Baird et al. 2006), and 2008 (Baird et al. 2008a). These efforts have involved assessing species composition based on distribution of sightings in relation to survey effort, and have utilized photo-identification of individuals to examine sighting histories, both around Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, as well as in comparison to photo-identification and survey effort undertaken elsewhere in the main Hawaiian Islands (Baird et al. 2008b, 2009, 2013a). In addition, biopsy samples have been collected from most species for studies of genetic differentiation (e.g., Courbis et al. 2014) and in 2008 CRC began deploying satellite tags to examine movements of individuals (Baird et al. 2008a). With support from the U.S. Navy more regular efforts off Kaua‘i began in 2011, and from 2011 through 2015 CRC had two field efforts each year off Kaua‘i, and had a single field effort in 2016, greatly increasing the information available to assess odontocete presence and residency around Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau. Funding for this recent work came from the Naval Postgraduate School (2011-2012; see Baird et al. 2013b), Pacific Fleet (2011-2016), and by a contract through the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC: 2014-2015).
This is the final report for work at PMRF under the NUWC contract, focusing on combined results from the 2014-2015 period as well as including the 2013 effort, to increase the sample size. We also include information from the larger sample of survey effort, sightings, and tag deployments off Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau to place what is known about odontocetes around those islands in the larger context of what is known about them elsewhere off the main Hawaiian Islands. Information obtained through field work supported by this contract has also been incorporated into a review of whale and dolphin populations in Hawaiian waters (Baird 2016).