When whales and dolphins are discovered stranded in distress on Hawaiʻi beaches, the University of Hawaiʻi Marine Mammal Stranding Lab is part of the team of first responders that spring into action. The lab is part of the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) and is the only entity in Hawaiʻi authorized by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service to research cause of death in marine mammals.
“Our lab’s role is to be the science providers behind the information we need to best manage marine mammal populations,” said lab director Kristi West. “We are responsible for the cause of death investigations and for a number of different areas of research that help us better understand the conservation threats that face Hawaiʻi‘s dolphins and whales.”
The UH lab performs necropsies, autopsies on animals, to look for signs of human impacts like ship strikes, entanglements, marine debris ingestion and acoustic trauma, which it does extensive research on. Lab researchers also look for evidence of diseases and is credited with, among other things, identifying the diseases morbillivirus, circovirus and Cryptococcus for the first time in Hawaiian marine mammals.
It is also the only lab of its kind in the Pacific Ocean region that processes and archives whale and dolphin tissues for numerous avenues of research. Critical to the lab’s work is the involvement of students from UH Mānoa and Windward Community College, who in turn receive invaluable, hands-on experience.
Read more about it in the UH System News.