Sailing for science: NOAA researchers hit the ocean to study dolphins, whales

Sailing for science: NOAA researchers hit the ocean to study dolphins, whales

By Pono Suganuma
HNN Summer Intern

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Aboard a NOAA research vessel, the Oscar Elton Sette, fifteen scientists set sail from Ford Island for a six month mission to survey dolphins and whales in the Hawaiian Islands.

The Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey (HICEAS) seeks to evaluate whale and dolphin populations for their structure and size, and study the health of the animals and their habitats.

Chief scientist for HICEAS, Dr. Erin Oleson, said this survey will allow researchers to collect data on the well-being of various species and how they are responding to environmental conditions.

"The main impacts will be that we will have a nice, fresh look at the status of all the cetaceans species," said Oleson, who works as a research ecologist with the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

During the six month mission, researchers will cover a study area of 1.8 million square nautical miles in the waters off the Hawaiian islands and Northwestern Hawaiian islands.

"This will be a really nice opportunity to get a whole Hawaiian archipelago picture of what's happening with cetacean populations," Oleson said.

A wide variety of scientists -- marine mammal observers, seabird observers, acousticians, visiting scientists, data collectors -- are participating in the study.

The researchers will work on the voyage for a period of 30 days before a new group rotates out.

Oleson said the crew is very excited to set sail as preparations for the voyage began six months ago.

"It's really nice to have it all come together know that we are going to leave this afternoon and get started," Oleson said.

The Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center will oversee the 187-day mission in collaboration with the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Both centers are a part of NOAA.

Previous HICEAS surveys were conducted in 2002 and 2010.

HICEAS will partner with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to collect data. Oleson said new technology gives researchers the opportunity to collect never before seen data, which will be shared with partner organizations.

"Keep up with us and hopefully we will have a lot more exciting stories to tell you," Oleson said.

To follow the HICEAS mission, click here, or use the Twitter hashtag #HICEAS2017.

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