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About TDI

The Dolphin Institute (TDI) is a Hawaii-based not-for-profit (501)(c)(3) organization dedicated to the study and preservation of dolphins, whales, and other marine mammals, and to the education of people whose attitudes and activities affect the survival and well-being of these animals.

TDI's mission is to map-out the sensory skills, cognitive abilities, and communication abilities of dolphins, to describe the behavior and biology of North Pacific humpback whales, and to educate people at all levels about these animals so that they may come to appreciate them and protect their fragile marine habitats.

Marine Mammal Research

TDI is a world leader in marine mammal science. TDI's researchers have conducted groundbreaking scientific studies of humpback whale behavior and biology and dolphin sensory perception, cognition, and communication for over 30 years. TDI has produced over 160 scientific publications and reports on whales and dolphins.

TDI's dolphin work has produced discoveries about dolphin hearing, vision, echolocation, and the inter-relation between these sensory systems. TDI's dolphin studies have revealed many of the cognitive capabilities of bottlenosed dolphins including semantic and syntactic understanding of imperative and interrogative instructions given within artificial languages, abilities for generalized imitation of behaviors and sounds, understanding of symbolic references to body parts, understanding of television displays, memory for visual items, acoustic items, and behaviors of self or another, and understanding of directed pointing and gaze.

TDI researchers pioneered the scientific study of humpback whales in Hawaiian waters in 1975. It has continued this research every year since establishing one of the longest ongoing scientific studies of humpback whales by any organization. These studies have provided groundbreaking information on humpback whale distribution, demographics, migration, social behavior, reproductive strategies, habitat use, and communication. Each of these areas is vital to insuring the protection of this endangered species, an important Hawai'i natural resource.


TDI's achievements have been featured widely in the media and have educated millions of viewers about dolphins and whales. Media coverage of TDI's findings include two IMAX films, magazines such as National Wildlife, TIME and Discover, and television documentaries like "National Geographic Explorer," PBS's "Into the Wild: Dolphins with Robin Williams," KGMB's award winning "Hawaii's Humpback Whales: Island Treasures," and BBC's "Wildlife of One: Dolphins - Deep Thinkers?" starring Sir David Attenborough.

TDI provides diverse educational programs including school outreach programs, high school internship programs, college- and post-college internship programs, and short-term participant programs. These programs bring students at all levels into contact ith the world of marine mammals, enhancing their knowledge and skills, and encouraging them to become stewards of the marine environment.


TDI's mission of conservation is accomplished in part through the widespread publication of its research findings. In addition, TDI researchers regularly provide lectures on whales and dolphins in Hawaii and abroad. TDI President Dr. Louis M. Herman serves as the conservation chair of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council and TDI Vice President Dr. Adam Pack serves as the alternate chair of research for the same body. TDI has conducted studies in Alaskan waters on vessel impacts on humpback whales and helped draft guidelines to protect the whaels in these waters. TDI has produced reports on threats to humpback whales in Hawaiian waters for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary. In 2004, TDI was awarded a two-year grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation under its whale conservation fund to develop a shore-based whale spotter boat alert system to provide ships with real-time maps of whale locations and thus help them avoid striking whales.

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