Researchers are researching impact of equipment on animals - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Researchers are researching impact of equipment on animals

KAHALA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Research on marine animals has been going on for years but no one really knows if the research equipment affects the animals. That's why scientists from Massachusetts are in town to find out.

The tags placed on a dolphins back can measure all its movements 50 times a second. It's a valuable research tool but does the equipment bother the animal?

"In attaching tags or equipment on an animal are they affecting the animal's oxygen consumption, are they spending more energy because they're going for a run wearing ankle weights. And are we affecting their movement or behavior and those are really important questions to ask as we design these instruments and deploy them," said Julie van der Hoop, PhD student with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and MIT joint program.

It's almost impossible to gather the research on wild animals so they are working at Dolphin Quest at the Kahala Resort.

"It's very enriching for all of us to be a part of it," said Julie Rocho-Levine, Dolphin Quest Oahu, Marine Animals Manager.

They monitor the dolphin before and after it follows a remote controlled boat for five minutes.

"I think it can be huge. If we understand that the instruments are not having a big impact on the animals then great let's continue as we're going. If certain things are impacting animals then we need to think twice," said van der Hoop.

The research is part of a four year study made possible with a $600,000 grant from National Science Foundation through the National Ocean Partnership Program with support from the Office of Naval Research.

In another separate aspect, there is talk of opening a marine animal rehabilitation center at a resort on Oahu in order to nurse wild animals back to health.

"Right now if an animal strands but is still alive there is no way to rehabilitate them because we don't have a place to bring them and that's really a shame because we're in a unique geographic position in the Pacific and it would be great to have a place to bring these animals," said Joy Leilei Shih, Oceanography Graduate Researcher and Conservation Consultant. "If they think animal can survive they can put it back in the water but most of the time it means they have to euthanize them."

A new facility would cost a few million dollars and likely require corporate sponsorships.

That and the research findings are something to watch out for in the coming years.

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