By A.R. Royo
Maui’s Great Whale Count
February is usually the peak of whale watch season on Maui, Hawaii, when Humpback Whales are readily visible from the island’s south and western shorelines. It’s also time for the annual Great Whale Count, a citizens’ count of Humpback Whales organized by the non-profit Pacific Whale Foundation.
The Great Whale Count takes place each year at the end of February. Maui residents and visitors are encouraged to sign up, don binoculars, and head to a shoreline whale counting station to record information about the whales they see.
This year, over 100 volunteers gathered at 12 stations on Maui with Pacific Whale Foundation researchers February 23 to record 1,126 Humpback Shale sightings during the 2013 annual Great Whale Count off Maui.
Maui is where the largest numbers of Humpback Whales are found in Hawaii, which is why people fly in from Oahu or the Big Island to help with the Great Whale Count. On neighboring islands, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary now conducts an Ocean Count, which evolved from Pacific Whale Foundation’s Great Whale Count.
25th Annual Maui Great Whale Count
The Great Whale Count began on Maui in 1988, and is conducted by teams of Pacific Whale Foundation staff and volunteers stationed at specific points along Maui’s shorelines. The counting is limited to animals sighted within three miles of the shoreline to ensure more accuracy and to allow the counters to best determine the whales’ pod composition and behaviors.
Pacific Whale Foundation’s founder and Executive Director Greg Kaufman stated, “Please note that we are not recording the number of whales out there, but a proportion of the whales off Maui given that we restrict our observations to within three nautical miles. In addition, we space our stations three miles apart, so we do not overlap the areas in which we conduct our whale scan windows.”Based on the latest population studies, there is thought to be about 12,000 to 14,000 Humpback Whales in the North Pacific, with about 60% spending at least some of the winter months in Hawaii to mate, calve and nurse their young. The population is believed to be growing at a rate of 7% per year.
After reviewing the day’s data, Kaufman said believes that the peak of whalewatch season was yet to come on Maui. He pointed out that a lower number of calves were recorded this year than last year (83 calves or 7.6% of all sightings compared to 9.7% in 2012). And, he said, only two competition pods were observed throughout all counting sites.
12-14000 Humpback Whales Now Visit Hawaii Annually
“We are pleased that our Great Whale Count data correlate with other scientific studies, indicating a steadily increase of the population of North Pacific humpback whales,” Kaufman added. “It’s estimated that there are now 23,000 humpback whales in the North Pacific with about 60% [approximately 12,000 to 14,000] coming to Hawaii over the entire season. Large numbers of these whales are found off the coast of Maui, in the area bordered by the islands of Maui, Kahoolawe, Molokai, and Lanai.”
Data from The Great Whale Count are compiled and evaluated by Pacific Whale Foundation’s research team and supplement field studies. Previous results are published in the peer-reviewed journal Pacific Conservation Biology in an article entitled “Predicting trends in humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) abundance using citizen-science.”
Pacific Whale Foundation helped introduce the Great Whale Count to neighboring islands. In 1996, it was started on Oahu, in partnership with the then newly created Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. In 1998, the Sanctuary changed the name to “Ocean Count” to encompass other marine wildlife, and continues to run counts independently.
The Great Maui Whale Festival
The Great Whale Count supplements Pacific Whale Foundation’s Humpback Whale research efforts in Hawaii, and encourages citizen awareness of, and participation in whale research. It is part of The Great Maui Whale Festival, a series of free whale-related events taking place from December through May.
World Whale Day, a free all-day February each year, includes a Parade of Whales, a Keiki (Children’s) Whale-a-thon and the Wild and Wonderful Whale Regatta. Pacific Whale Foundation is a nonprofit organization based on Maui dedicated to protecting whales and our oceans through science and advocacy. For more information about other Maui Whale Festival events, call Pacific Whale Foundation at (808) 249-8811 or visit www.mauiwhalefestival.org.
[tags]hawaii whales,hawaii vacation, hawaii visitors, hawaii news, hawaii ocean[/tags]