1,607 Humpback Whales Sighted in 2011 Great Maui Whale Count
By Wendy Osher
More than 1600 whale sightings were recorded on Saturday during the Great Maui Whale Count, hosted by the Pacific Whale Foundation. The three-and-a-half-hour event included monitoring from a dozen counting stations along Maui shorelines.
The greatest number of whales was tallied from the top of the Pu’u Olai cinder cone in Makena where 311 whales were counted.
Pacific Whale Foundation President Greg Kaufman said the numbers correlate with research that shows the whale population is increasing at a rate of 7-8% each year.
Last year’s counters recorded 1,208 sightings, but the count was conducted a week later than usual, due to a tsunami warning on February 26th of last year. The weekend results this year represent a 33% increase over last year.
“Based on what I have observed on the water recently and from atop Pu’u Olai, it is clear we are entering into the prime or ‘peak’ portion of the whale-watch season; we expect whale sightings to build over the next few weeks into March,” said Kaufman.
The results are used for a long-term snapshot view of Hawaii’s wintering whale population. “An estimated 20,000 humpback whales live in the North Pacific; about 60% of that population is believed to come to Hawaii each year,” said Kaufman.
An estimated 100 volunteers worked alongside researchers and staff from the Pacific Whale foundation at counting stations extending from Makena to Kapalua, as well as Hookipa Beach Park on Maui’s north shore.
The Great Whale Count is part of the Maui Whale Festival, a series of whale-related events that runs from November through Mid-May. The festival continues with a free talk on Thursday, March 17 by PWF researchers Amanda Hutsel and Annie Macie. The talk entitled “On the Trail of the Whales in Australia,” features slides and video. Researchers will recount their experiences from more than six months in the field studying humpback whales along Australia’s eastern seaboard. The FREE talk runs from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Pacific Whale Foundation’s Discovery Center, downstairs at the Harbor Shops at Ma’alaea (next to the Maui Ocean Center).
(Supporting information courtesy Pacific Whale Foundation)