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Jeff Pawloski a researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine
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Jeff Pawloski, a researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology

June 1, 2010
Jeff Pawloski, a researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, part of the University of Hawaii, collects a saliva sample from the mouth of Kina, a false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens). Kina has been trained to allow samples to be taken, which researchers will use to determine the composition of the saliva and to measure the hormone levels of the animal. [One of several related images from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. See Next Image.]

More about this Image Kina is a 20-year-old false killer whale who is an active participant in on-going hearing and echolocation research at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, part of the University of Hawaii. Dolphins and whales rely on their acoustic senses for locating prey and for communication with their species. Scientists are concerned about how the noise projected into the water from super tankers, oil exploration, navy sonar and oceanographic experiments may effect their acoustic capabilities.

Kina is quite remarkable because thus far, her biosonar--or echolocation--is the best sonar that has ever been tested in the world. She can echolocate and then differentiate between machined cylinders that may differ by as little as .003 of an inch. More specifically, she can tell the difference between cylinders that have a wall-thickness of 250 thousandths of an inch from those that are 247 or 253 thousandths of an inch.

Researchers at the institute are currently examining how well Kina hears while she is echolocating. During echolocation, she produces a loud echolocation click and then immediately receives a very quiet echo back. Researchers found that her auditory system responds to the faint echo at the same magnitude it responds to the loud outgoing click.

Kina is a very mild mannered whale with very large teeth. In the wild, false killer whales hunt in groups and often kill large prey (a large tuna fish for example) and then share it among themselves. In her open bay pen at the institute in Kaneohe Bay, Kina eats herring, smelt and occasionally squid. She is a little shy but learns things very rapidly.

The National Science Foundation supports certain aspects of this on-going research with marine animals at the institute. The actual work is conducted by Paul Nachtigall, director of the Marine Mammal Research Program; Jeff Pawloski, Alexander Supin, Marlee Breese and Whitlow Au, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii.