Maui’s Great Whale Count Rescheduled to Saturday, March 6

March 3, 2010, 12:45 PM HST · Updated March 3, 12:54 PM
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Maui’s Great Whale Count has been rescheduled to Saturday, March 6, after last weekend’s tsunami warning forced the event host, Pacific Whale Foundation, to postpone the count.

Image Courtesy Pacific Whale Foundation.

Photo Courtesy Pacific Whale Foundation.

“While tsunamis generally don’t appear to have an effect on whales, the threat of a tsunami did have an impact on the humans who were planning to count whales off Maui’s shores last Saturday,” said Greg Kaufman, Founder and Executive Director of Pacific Whale Foundation. “Fortunately, everything worked out okay and we will now be able to hold the Great Whale Count on Saturday, March 6.”

Pacific Whale Foundation had nearly 175 counters signed up to take part in the count. Because some of the counters are visitors, who are departing before March 6, there are openings for new volunteer counters to participate in the event.  Those wanting to participate can contact Pacific Whale Foundation’s Research Director, Kristen Jule, at [email protected]. There is no cost to be part of The Great Whale Count, and all tools and training will be provided by Pacific Whale Foundation.

“During the Great Whale Count you’ll learn how to collect and record scientific data,” notes Kaufman. “This is also a great opportunity to ask all those questions you have about the whales and their behaviors you see, and to learn about whale research.”

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Each volunteer is assigned to one of twelve shore-based counting stations, found along the south and west coasts of Maui, from the Ritz Carlton in Kapalua to Pu’u O Lai in Makena, plus at Ho’okipa Beach on Maui’s north shore. Training at each site begins at 8:00 a.m. and the official counting takes place from 8:30 a.m. to noon. The counting is limited to animals sighted within three miles of the shoreline to ensure more accuracy and to allow the counters to best determine the whales’ pod composition and behaviors.

Data from The Great Whale Count is compiled and evaluated by Pacific Whale Foundation’s research team, and the results of the count are shared with the public. Pacific Whale Foundation’s staff will then compare the data from each year with the count results from prior years to get a snapshot view of the whale population off Maui at the peak of the season. The data supplements results from Pacific Whale Foundation’s research field studies.

“The Great Whale Count takes place during the peak of whalewatching season on Maui,” says Kristen Jule, Research Director at Pacific Whale Foundation.  “People are often amazed by how many humpback whales you can see from the shore when you spend time looking for them.”

An estimated 18,000 to 20,000 humpback whales live in the North Pacific; about 60% of that population is believed to come to Hawaii each year. The majority are found off the coast of Maui, in the area bordered by the islands of Maui, Kaho’olawe, Moloka’i and Lana’i.

The whales come to Maui to mate, give birth and care for their young, and are known for their intriguing and acrobatic behaviors, which include breaching, tail slapping and singing underwater. Part of The Great Whale Count involves recording the types of whale behaviors that are observed.

“The Great Whale Count is a tradition we began on Maui back in 1988,” says Greg Kaufman, President and founder of Pacific Whale Foundation. “We started the Great Whale Count on Oahu in 1996 in partnership with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Natonal Marine Sanctuary, and in 1998 they changed the name to ‘Ocean Count’ and took over running it on their own.”

A total of 1,010 humpback whale sightings were recorded by more than 200 volunteers, during the 2009 Great Maui Whale Count, on Saturday, February 28, 2009.

In 2008, there were 1,726 sightings. In 2007, counters at all of the sites tallied a total of 959 whale sightings. In 2006, there were 1,265 humpback whales counted. There were 649 humpback whale sightings recorded during the 2005 count. In 2004, rainy weather caused a disruption in the counting. In 2003, there were 815 sightings tallied. The counters in 2002 reported 673 sightings.

The Great Whale Count is part of the Maui Whale Festival, a five-week series of whale-related events taking place from February 1 through March 6. For more information about these events and a free schedule, please call Pacific Whale Foundation at (808) 249-8811 or visit www.pacificwhale.org

(Posted by Wendy Osher; Information courtesy Pacific Whale Foundation)

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