Aloha from Hawaii
Julian Tyne, Krista Nicholson and Lars Bejder are currently in Hawaii participating in field research to support Julian’s PhD research – and Heather Heenehan’s PhD work (from Duke University). Below, is a blog by Heather on the two weeks of research.
“Two summers ago I, Heather, came to Hawaii Island as a Master’s student at Duke University to help kick off the very first field season of what would be called the SAPPHIRE Project. That summer we worked on developing protocols for acoustics and photo-identification. Theodolite tracking, our third research method, was still a permit process away. Today, I am back in Kona as a PhD student on the project for a two week intensive data collection trip. Things have certainly changed since that first summer!
The SAPPHIRE Project is a joint project between Duke University and Murdoch University. SAPPHIRE stands for Spinner dolphin Acoustics, Population Parameters and Human Impacts REsearch project. The project aims to address knowledge gaps with an integrative research program to assess distribution, abundance, and behavior of Hawaiian spinner dolphins in proposed closure areas using a suite of techniques: acoustics, theodolite tracking, focal follows and dolphin photo identification. We made it the goal of this two-week intensive to collect data from three of these methods and do our best to make it as integrative as possible. We wanted to be able to link all of our research methods together and be able to see the big picture.
Since I was here last, the protocols have been developed and refined and we are able to run each of the three methods. Acoustics is my focus and during my last visit I was only able to see the loggers deployed off the side of the boat. It was great to see a logger deployed on the bottom of Kealakekua Bay. This week, “Loggy” as we call him, made a new friend. The new acoustic loggers we are using for this intensive study period are called a DMON and are on loan from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Duke Marine Lab. These pieces of equipment are able to collect continuous acoustic recordings in the bay.
In addition to actually seeing each of our methods in action, in the last week we have had all three of the methods running at the same time. This is the first time this has happened since the start of the project! In just the last two days I went up on the clifftop in Kealakekua Bay for theodolite tracking, re-deployed one of our acoustic loggers and took part in approaches to dolphin groups and photo identification. This integrative research requires a lot of coordination. We have had three teams going: a photo ID intensive team, a boat team and a theodolite team. The theodolite team has had three great days of following the movement patterns and behaviours of the dolphins in the bay as well as the distribution and abundance of boats and swimmers; the record is 8 hours and 25 minutes of continuous tracking! Today, the dolphins weren’t in the bay but we were treated to a great show by three humpbacks including a mom and calf pair and a crew of bottlenose dolphins that stuck with them the whole day. Hopefully the acoustic loggers have some great high resolution recordings of that. The boat team has been treated to Blainville’s beaked whales, pilot whales, including one who seems to have suffered from some form of fisheries interaction, bottlenose dolphins, humpback whales and of course spinner dolphins.
The SAPPHIRE project was created due to growing concerns about the interactions between humans and spinner
dolphins and our lack of knowledge regarding their abundance and vital rates. Spinner dolphins have very predictable daily behavior. They move into shallow, coastal, and beautiful bays to rest during the day, when humans are most active. The boat team has certainly seen some gut-wrenching interactions between humans and dolphins over the last few days. One of the most ironic situations we encountered was in Honaunau, a national park and a “Place of Refuge.” While we were there we realized that Honaunau is hardly a place of refuge or rest for the spinner dolphins. Our research vessel was part of the mix in this bay on this day (and others), and we remain cognizant that our permitted research can also disrupt dolphin rest. We take this fact seriously, knowing that our work will contribute strongly to future management decisions regarding the sustainability of spinner dolphin populations in Hawaii, and elsewhere.
I have enjoyed seeing each of our three methods but I think the most exciting piece of all this for me, is the personnel we have assembled for this intensive. The group of people that descended on Kona for this two week field extravaganza is amazing. We have three people from Duke University: Dr. David Johnston (the lead researcher from Duke), Sharon Chan (an undergraduate student) and myself, Heather Heenehan. Three from Murdoch University: Associate Prof. Lars Bejder (the lead researcher from Murdoch), Julian Tyne (the PhD student from Murdoch) and Krista Nicholson (a Masters student from Murdoch). We were also joined by another PhD student from York College working on the social science side of the project, Carlie Weiner, three representatives from NOAA, Laura McCue, Marie Chapla-Hill and Charles Littnan. Not to mention John Symons (the field manager), Stacia Goecke and Brigid McKenna (both SAPPHIRE Research Assistants) who have seen their normal routine turned on its head to support this two week intensive. Thank you everyone for all of your help and support and thanks in advance to Bob Gladden who will back to help for this upcoming week.”
Stay tuned for more!