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“This is a great opportunity for us, not only have people come and see the animals, but for us to continue the investigations and to continue to study these animals longer," said Jeff Pawloski, the park’s curator.
Last month Sea Life Park took possession of Kina, a 40-year-old false killer whale, and two bottlenose dolphins, BJ, 29, and Boris, 26. All three animals have been the focus of groundbreaking research by UH and the military.
"We've done everything from vision studies, to how well they see, to their sonar and their hearing," said Pawloski. “In fact, some of the work Kina and Boris and BJ have done has helped us form regulations for out in the ocean – what type of noises do people put in the ocean and do they have deleterious effects on animals.”
False killer whales are actually the third-largest member of the oceanic dolphin family, and for Pawloski, Kina’s transfer means the two have been reunited after 13 years apart.
“We always tell the staff not to get warm and fuzzy about the animals, but I know she remembers me from back in ’88,” he said. "It was a chicken skin moment. Not only does she add to our family, but it's, 'Wow,' it's an old friend!”
All three dolphins are currently in quarantine, but soon BJ and Boris will have their own reunion. That's because their offspring, Ho'olono, 9, is already at Sea Life Park. Although it’s been nearly two years since the parents have seen Ho’olono, everyone at the park is curious what that'll be like since dolphins have signature whistles that signify who they are.
"We intend to bring some of the scientists here to put some hydrophones in the water and see if maybe we can figure out what's going on,” said Pawloski. “So, we want to see if the signature whistle comes back, and we know that it’s been documented while he was in a research setting at Coconut Island.”
However, activists might argue the dolphins should be released back into the wild. Pawloski says while that may seem plausible to those on the outside looking in, it would be irresponsible for researchers to do so.
"For them to try to and reassume that role back in the wild, to fit right in that niche and find a group of animals that they could fit in with, would be very difficult,” he said. “We know that would not be the thing to do."
Dolphins often mask illnesses in the wild so they don't fall prey to other animals, but at Sea Life Park all animals are constantly monitored to assure they’re in good health.
"We routinely take blood samples and then we can analyze it, the vet analyzes it, and we also match that with behavior," said Pawloski. “We do veterinary CSI.”
Since dolphins can live to be 60 years old, Kina, BJ and Boris could be at the park for many more years to come. Kina will eventually be placed inside the park’s Dolphin Lagoon, while a decision on where to permanently locate the two other animals is pending.
"We not only want to provide an entertaining fun day at the park to interact with all sorts of marine life, but a chance to learn more about these animals,” Pawloski said.