Volunteers gathered data from the shores of Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii island during the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count and from Maui during the Great Whale Count by Pacific Whale Foundation, the third coordinated whale counts between the two organizations in 2022.
This was the first count since the start of COVID-19 to welcome back a small number of volunteers at designated sites to participate in the count, as well as the fourth year both counts were coordinated on the same days, ensuring data from all the main Hawaiian Islands was collected simultaneously.
The PCF said 241 volunteers collected data from 44 sites across all the main Hawaiian Islands on March 26. A total of 136 whale sightings were seen during the 10:00 to 10:15 a.m. time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count.
On the Big Island, Oahu, and Kauai, Ocean Count volunteers collected data from 32 sites; a total of 93 whale sightings were seen during the 10:00 to 10:15 a.m. 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 56 whale sightings were seen during the 9:30 to 9:45 a.m. time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count.
Across the main Hawaiian Islands, the average weather conditions were windy, sunny skies and light to medium swells with white caps. These conditions impacted visibility, making it harder to view whales especially during the last scans of the event. A variety of other species were also spotted during the count including honu (green sea turtles), naiʻa (spinner dolphins), malolo (flying fish) and multiple seabird species such as ʻa (red-footed/brown booby), koaʻe ʻula (red-tailed tropicbird, ʻiwa (great frigatebird), moli (laysan albatross) and more. One site on Maui observed an ʻIlioholoikauaua (Hawaiian monk seal) hauled out during the count.
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 Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island. 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 Hawaii, 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 cetacean based 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 is available at: oceancount.org/resources. Additional information is available on the sanctuary’s website at hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov.