Maui News

Modified Sanctuary Ocean Count and Great Whale Count Commence for 2021

January 31, 2021, 8:56 AM HST
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Humpback whale breaching off of Kīhei, Maui on Jan. 11, 2021. PC: Ellen Raimo via Robert Raimo.

Sixty-eight trained site leaders gathered data from the shores of O‘ahu, Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i islands during the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count and from Maui during the Great Whale Count by Pacific Whale Foundation, the first of three coordinated whale counts between the two organizations in 2021.

Due to COVID-19 safety precautions, the sanctuary and Pacific Whale Foundation are running modified programs without the normal participation of volunteers. Instead, each site is monitored by trained site leaders working individually or as a couple.

This is the third year that both counts are coordinated on the same days, ensuring the data from all the main Hawaiian Islands are collected simultaneously.

Site leaders collected data from 43 sites across all the main Hawaiian Islands on Jan. 30. A total of 177 whale sightings were seen during the 9 to 9:15 a.m. time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count.

On the islands of Hawai‘i, O‘ahu, and Kaua‘i, Ocean Count site leaders collected data from 31 sites; a total of 125 whale sightings were seen during the 9 to 9:15 a.m. time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count.

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On Maui, Great Whale Count site leaders collected data from 12 sites during 15-minute intervals between 8:30 and 11:50 a.m. A total of 71 whale sightings were seen during the 10:30 to 10:45 a.m. time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count. 

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Across the main Hawaiian Islands, weather conditions varied with many sites experiencing medium to strong strength winds with occasional showers. While other sites had partly cloudy to sunny conditions throughout the count. A variety of other species were also spotted during the count including honu (green sea turtles), ‘īlioholoikauaua (Hawaiian monk seals), spinner dolphins and multiple seabird species.

The organizations remind the public that approaching humpback whales when on or in the water within 100 yards or within 1,000 feet by air (including drones) can affect the animals and is illegal.

Ocean Count promotes public awareness about humpback whales, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, and shore-based whale watching opportunities. Site leaders 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 O‘ahu, Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i islands. Ocean Count is supported by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

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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.

Both counts will take place three times during peak whale season annually on the last Saturdays in January, February, and March.

Preliminary data detailing Sanctuary Ocean Count whale sightings by site location are available at: https://oceancount.org/resources/ 

Pacific Whale Foundation’s Great Whale Count data may be found at https://www.pacificwhale.org/research/community-science/.

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