1,208 Whales Sighted in Great Maui Whale Count
A total of 1,208 humpback whale sightings were reported in the Great Maui Whale Count, held over the weekend. The Pacific Whale Foundation says an average of 382 whales per hour were tallied during the count, which took place at 12 stations across Maui. The sightings represented a 19.6% increase over last year, but still below the record of 1,726 sightings counted in 2008 when conditions were ideal.
Officials with the Pacific Whale Foundation say the dramatic increase in whale sightings from 2009 to 2010 may be attributable to a number of factors, including the fact that the count was pushed back a week this year. The date change was implemented because of the tsunami warning issued on February 27, 2010.
Of the 1,208 sightings, 149 were calves, compared with the 104 calves sighted last year, an increase of 43%. Calves accounted for 12.3% of the sightings in 2010 versus 10.3% in 2009.
The greatest number of whales sighted at an individual station were recorded at the Maui Marriott in Ka’anapali, where counters led by volunteer Rob Dwyer reported 208 whale sightings. The second most prolific site was the Papawai Point (McGregor Point) lookout along the Honoapiilani Highway where 200 whale sightings were recorded. Counters on the red hill behind Makena Beach State Park (Pu’u Olai) reported 175 whale sightings, the third most whale-populated site of all the counting sites.
“My overall impression is that we are seeing typical mid-season whale activity, with calf numbers slightly higher this year than last,” said Greg Kaufman, founder and Executive Director at Pacific Whale Foundation in an agency press release.
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 is 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.
The Great Whale Count is part of The Great Maui Whale Festival, a series of whale-related events taking place from February through March.
The festival continues with a free talk on March 18 by Pacific Whale Foundation researcher Annie Macie, on “Notes from the Research Field: Australia 2009.” Macie will share details of the research team’s 2009 Australia-based field season, including footage of a rare encounter with the renowned Migaloo, the world’s only all-white humpback whale. The talk will take place at Pacific Whale Foundation’s Discovery Center in Ma’alaea (next to Maui Ocean Center from. 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.
(Information courtesy: Pacific Whale Foundation)