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

For immediate release:  February 28, 2009
Contact:    Christine Brammer
(808) 397-2651 ext. 252 

Over 650 volunteers gathered data from the shores of Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island for Saturday’s annual Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count. Participants tallied humpback whale sightings and documented the animals’ surface behavior during the survey. 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 55 sites statewide. Every 15 minutes, an average of 2 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 – 2 whales

            Kaua‘i – 2 whales

            Big Island – 3 whales

            Kaho‘olawe – Cancelled due to inclement weather

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.

“The weather made today's whale count a challenge, but many Sanctuary Ocean Count volunteers didn't let the weather effect their day” said Christine Brammer, sanctuary ocean count coordinator. “The Ocean Count project provides the public with a truly unique whale watching experience since Hawaii is believed to have the largest seasonal population of humpback whales in the world. There's one more chance for the public to get involved in this year's count."

Many sites were eventually forced to close due to severe weather conditions (high winds, rain, blowing sand, rough waters). Overall, today's conditions were not ideal for viewing whales. The number of whales counted was lower than past years at this time.

One more Sanctuary Ocean Counts is scheduled to take place on Saturday, March 28.  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.

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