Collecting valuable data of sperm whales

By Nana Ohkawa
Published On: Nov 01 2013 05:42:00 PM HST

Hawaii Pacific University's mammal stranding team is hard at work examining pieces of the sperm whale found dead off the windward coast a week ago.

HONOLULU -

Collecting valuable data of an endangered species. Hawaii Pacific University's mammal stranding team hopes to learn from the sperm whale carcass brought into shore last week.

The 50 foot whale was towed into Kaneohe.

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"We were able to collect a tooth, we were able to collect blubber, we were able to collect some skin even though it was in a bad state. We were also able to collect kidneys, a portion of the heart and different things. We are hoping to get some information from them," said Erin Hanahoe, stranding team coordinator.

There are only pieces so each measurement is valuable. Each tooth reveals rings telling scientists how old the majestic creature was. Every remaining inch of carcass helps fill the large gaps of information about sperm whales around Hawaii.

"They dive to thousands of meters up to hours at a time so they live an amazing life down there. This is a glimpse for us into their biology and how they live," said Kristi West with the stranding program.

Sperm whales are difficult to find and study at sea. Even sightings are rare. The coast guard spotted a pod 10 miles off Barbers Point on Oahu on Thursday. Researchers are trying to unlock mysteries of the endangered species: how they live, and also how they die.

"There are problems sperm whales face like ship strikes and entanglements and potentially varying heavy pollutant loads. This is a chance to learn more about them so we can protect sperm whales," said West.

The gathered data will be sent to experts and the conclusions will be determined in a week or so.
A non profit team at the same time have been tagging sperm whales off the big island this past week to learn more about the species.

The HPU mammal stranding team lost their NOAA grant for the 2014 school year. They are hoping to get more funding for the program that costs at least $100,000 to run.

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