The Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey (HICEAS, pronounced "high-seas") is a large-scale ship survey for cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and seabirds within the U.S. waters of the Hawaiian Islands. Our study area is approximately 1.8 million square nautical miles (2.5 million km2), including waters surrounding all Northwest and Main Hawaiian Islands out to 200 nmi offshore. Waters within this 200 nmi boundary around the Hawaiian Islands are referred to as the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, or "EEZ." HICEAS 2017 took place between July 6 and December 1, 2017, a total of 179 days at sea.
HICEAS is a collaboration between the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center located in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the Southwest Fisheries Science Center located in San Diego, California. NOAA Fisheries also conducted HICEAS in 2002, 2010. The goals of HICEAS are to estimate how many cetaceans are in Hawaiian waters, examine their population structure, and understand their habitat. Large-scale surveys like HICEAS are rare, and we aim to serve as many partners as possible within the constraints of our survey design. The 2017 survey was especially significant as it provides important data for several management priorities, including:
- Cetacean and seabird species inventory, abundance, and habitat information for the recently expanded Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (or "Monument").
- New abundance estimates for false killer whales in support of the False Killer Whale Take-Reduction Plan (TRP), as well as for all cetacean species as required under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
- Updated abundance and distribution data for large whale, sea turtle, and seabird species listed under the Endangered Species Act.
- Updated cetacean and seabird assessments used to evaluate whether bycatch rates in U.S. fisheries are sustainable under the MMPA and Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Reauthorization Act.
HICEAS 2017 was the start of a new multi-agency plan called Pacific Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (PacMAPPS). PacMAPPS is a partnership among NOAA Fisheries, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to collect data and produce abundance estimates for species of joint management interest. PacMAPPS includes rotational surveys throughout the Pacific to assess the abundance of cetacean species and their ecosystems.
There are four major research components to HICEAS: visual observations for cetaceans, including photo-identification, biopsy sampling, and satellite tagging; passive acoustic monitoring using towed hydrophone arrays and other tools; ecosystem assessment, including visual surveys for seabirds and measurement of oceanographic variables; and conduct other ancillary projects, such as aerial photogrammetry using a hexacopter, testing of new passive acoustic tools, and other projects that support and augment our assessment mission.
*All photos were taken with research permit (NMFS permit #14907, 15240, 17022, 19091, 20311).