Volunteers Count Whales in NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary

January 28, 2008

humpback whale breaching.
Humpback whale breaching.

+ High Resolution (Credit: NOAA)

More than 600 volunteers gathered data from the shores of Oahu, Kauai, the Big Island, and Kahoolawe for Saturday’s annual Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count on Jan. 26.

Participants tallied humpback whale sightings and documented the animals’ surface behavior during the survey, which will continue on the last Saturdays in February and March. The sanctuary, which is managed by NOAA, protects humpback whales and their habitat in Hawaiian waters where they migrate each winter to mate, calve, and nurse their young.

Volunteers collected data from 56 sites statewide. Every 15 minutes, an average of two whales were counted per site statewide. The following are the average numbers of whales sighted per 15-minute count period on each of the islands:

O‘ahu – 1 whale
Kaua‘i – 3 whales
Big Island – 3 whales
Kaho‘olawe – Did not participate in January count

humpback whales.
Humpback whales in singing position.

+ High Resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Scientific studies have shown that Hawaii’s humpback whale population has been increasing at an annual rate of approximately seven percent. Over time, data from the Sanctuary Ocean Count can be used to corroborate these findings. Hawaiian waters provide critical breeding habitat for approximately two-thirds of the north Pacific stock of humpback whales.

“It was great to see so many new volunteers taking part in this month’s count,” said Christine Brammer, sanctuary ocean count coordinator. “The Ocean Count project provides a unique opportunity for the public to learn about Hawaii’s humpbacks while participating in a monitoring effort. Many volunteers that try out the project come back year after year. It is easy to get hooked on watching Hawaii’s humpbacks.”

Today’s windy weather conditions made it difficult to view whales from many locations. The average number of whales is down from five per count period last year to two this year.

Although counters were tasked with counting humpback whales, many other species including spinner dolphins, green sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, and a variety of seabirds were spotted. In fact, on Oahu, four Hawaiian monk seals were seen.

Two more Sanctuary Ocean Counts are scheduled to take place on Saturday, February 23 and March 29. Previous Ocean Count results are available on the sanctuary’s Web site. For more information on becoming a Sanctuary Ocean Count volunteer, contact the appropriate sanctuary office. On the Big Island, call 1-888-55-WHALE ext. 253. On Oahu, call 397-2651 ext. 253. On Kauai, call 1-808-246-2860. A whale count on Maui is conducted independently by the Pacific Whale Foundation.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.