Maui News

997 whales spotted during 2nd Sanctuary Ocean Count and Great Whale Count

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Maui. PC: Therese Olson

A total of 596 humpback whales were observed during the Great Whale Count on Maui, for a grand total of 997 spotted throughout the state.

The data was collected on Saturday as part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i; and the Great Whale Count by the Pacific Whale Foundation on Maui. It marked the second of three coordinated whale counts between the two organizations in 2023. This is the first year since March 2020 that both programs are resuming normal operations.

On Kaua‘i, the total number of whales observed during the day’s count was 64, on O‘ahu, the total was 232, and Hawai‘i 105. This number may represent duplicate sightings of the same whale by different observers or at different time periods or different locations throughout the day.

Oʻahu Spitting Caves PC: NOAA / Sherine Boomla

Hundreds of volunteers collected data from 42 sites across all the main Hawaiian Islands. A total of 147 whales were observed during the 8:30-8:45 am time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count.

  • On Maui, Great Whale Count volunteers collected data from 12 sites during 15-minute intervals between 8:30 a.m. and 11:50 a.m. A total of 105 whales were observed during the 11:30-11:45 a.m. time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count. 
  • On the islands of Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, and Hawai‘i, Ocean Count volunteers collected data from 30 sites; a total of 77 whales were observed during the 8:30-8:45 a.m. time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count. 

Data collected during the Sanctuary Ocean Count and Great Whale Count combined with other research efforts can help reveal trends in humpback whale occurrence within and amongst whale seasons.

Across the main Hawaiian Islands, weather conditions varied with sunny blue skies or cloudy conditions. The majority of sites were impacted by strong winds and moderate swells that made it difficult for observing whales from the shoreline.


A variety of other species were also spotted during the count including ʻilioholoikauaua (Hawaiian monk seal), honu (green sea turtles), naiʻa (spinner dolphins) and multiple seabird species such as ʻiwa (great frigatebird), mōlī (Laysan albatross), kōlea (Pacific golden plover), manu o Kū (white tern), ʻĀ (red-footed booby), koaʻe ula (red-tailed tropicbird) and more. 

Ocean Count promotes public awareness about humpback whales, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, and shore-based whale watching opportunities. Volunteers tally humpback whale sightings and document the animals’ surface behavior during the survey, which provides a snapshot of humpback whales’ activity from the shorelines of  Kaua‘i, Oʻahu, and Hawai‘i islands. Ocean Count is supported by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

The Great Whale Count by Pacific Whale Foundation had site leaders count whales from shore as part of a long-term survey of humpback whales in Hawai’i, with 12 survey sites along the shoreline of Maui. This event provides a snapshot of trends in relative abundance of whales and is one of the world’s longest-running community science projects.

Oʻahu, Mokuleia Beach Park. PC: NOAA / Jennifer Strahl

Both counts take place three times during peak whale season annually on the last Saturday in January, February, and March. This is the fifth year that both counts are coordinated on the same days, ensuring the data from all the main Hawaiian Islands are collected simultaneously.


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