Hooked on Humpbacks: 900 People Volunteer to Count Whales
By Wendy Osher
More than 900 people volunteered for a weekend whale count held at 62 sites across the state. The annual event is sponsored by NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary to document population and surface behavior.
“Many volunteers that try out the project come back year after year. It is easy to get hooked on watching Hawaii’s humpback,” said Claire Kavanaugh, sanctuary ocean count project coordinator.
According to data from Saturday’s annual event, an average of 5 whales per site were counted every 15 minutes. The average count on Oahu and the Big Island was 4, while the average Kauai sighting was higher at 6 whales every 15 minutes. A whale count on Maui is conducted independently by the Pacific Whale Foundation each February.
Scientific studies have shown that Hawaii’s humpback whale population has been increasing at an annual rate of approximately 7 percent. Over time, data from the Sanctuary Ocean Count will be used to help corroborate the findings. Hawaiian waters provide critical breeding habitat for approximately two-thirds of the north Pacific stock of humpback whales.
The sanctuary is tasked with protecting humpback whales and their habitat in Hawaiian waters where they migrate each winter to mate, calve, and nurse their young
“With perfect weather conditions, a record number of volunteers statewide and a remarkable amount of whale activity, Saturday’s event was an exciting kick-off to the 2011 season” said Kavanaugh.
Two more Sanctuary Ocean Counts are scheduled to take place on February 26 and March 26, 2011.
The Great Whale Count on Maui takes place on Saturday, February 26, 2011 from 8 a.m. to noon. Volunteers will join researchers from the Pacific Whale Foundation at select shoreline locations. No experience is necessary, but registration is required by calling 249-8811 ext. 1.