Research Project Aims at Protecting Humpback Whales

David Mattila
David Mattila

MAUI (KHNL) -- It is being called the largest whale research project ever attempted.

Titled "Splash", the program is an international effort to better understand the population structure of humpback whales, across the north pacific.

And with that understanding, should come better protection for these endangered marine mammals.

The largest, most complex study of the migration patterns of the humpback whale in the pacific, actually came from the simplest of questions.

''One of the most frequent questions from the public is, How many are there? Are they recovering? Are they not recovering?" said David Mattila, NOAA Science Coordinator.

And then, the north pacific rim recruiting began.

From January of 2004 until the summer of 2006 -- about 150 marine researchers from the Philippines, Asia, Russia, Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. pooled their efforts to gather the same "three types of information" for comparison.

''One is a photograph of the tail pattern which is distinct for each whale, like a fingerprint. The other is to take a small plug of skin and blubber, a little biopsy, to determine the sex, the genetics, toxicology. And then, the third thing is to take images of their bodies and tails from the side to look at human impacts like vessel collisions and mostly entanglement."

That data has since been gathered and catalogued.

And now, the results are starting to pay off, with a clearer picture of the migration patterns of thousands of humpback whales in the north pacific.

''That's going to be the most exciting thing. It's pretty clear that Central America, the whales that breed there, go the west coast of the U.S. That's a separate group. The Philippines, that's a separate group. They go to Russia. And, Hawaii primarily goes to Alaska and British Columbia, Canada."

Before returning here to the islands, for all of us to enjoy.