Humpback Whale count volunteers needed

The sponsor of the yearly Hawaiian Humpback Whale watch project on Kaua’i, Big Island and O’ahu wants to get the jump on a undertaking to help with the reproduction of the endangered species.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is looking for volunteers for the 2003 Ocean Count to help sanctuary staffers observe humpback whales from the shore and record their activities.

The data allows sanctuary officials and scientists to study whale population, distribution and behavior at different locations during the whale season, which generally runs between the winter and spring months.

The whale count event will be held at selected sites on Kaua’i, Oahu and the Big Island from 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on Jan. 25, Feb. 22 and March 29.

Because of outreach efforts by the Kaua’i sanctuary office, fewer whale observation sites on Kaua’i will be set up for the March 29 count, according to Jean Sousa, who heads the Kaua’i office.

People wishing to volunteer can call 246-2860 on Kaua’i, 397-2656 on Oahu or 1-888-55-WHALE on the Big Island.

People can choose to be either a site leader or a volunteer, both of which are needed at the observation sites, sanctuary officials said in a news release.

Advance training will not be offered for O’ahu and the Big Island counts because of the large number of participants anticipated to come out for the counts.

Last year, 900 people participated during one day of the O’ahu count. Over three days of observations form sites on O’ahu, a total of 2,000 people participated.

By contrast, about 200 people participated in Kaua’i’s three-day count.

Because the number of people volunteering in the Kaua’i project is smaller, volunteers will be asked to attend a free training session and lecture with site leaders.

Sousa said a training session will be held at King Kaumuali’i School in Hanama’ulu between 10 a.m. and 12: 30 p.m. on Jan. 11.

On the same day between 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., Daniela Maldini, an ocean count research contractor, will give a lecture on Orca whales, also known as “killer whales.” The lecture is free and is open to the public.

Maldini also will give a lecture on the humpback whales.

The data on the whales that has been collected during counts in recent years has corroborated the findings of whale population surveys using several methods, including aerial surveys, sanctuary officials said.

A research consultant will analyze the data collected during the three counts, and the data will be available on www.hwnms.nos.noaa.gov when completed.

The study results are intended to help preserve the whales, which were once plentiful. But its population was nearly depleted because of commercialization of whale products, including oil.

Because of it diminished numbers, the whale was listed as an endangered in the United States in 1973 and deserving of protection.

The sanctuary focuses on the protection of the humpback whale and its habitat in Hawai’i, which is used for breeding.

The sanctuary in Hawai’i is one of 13 national marine sanctuaries administered by NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

The Hawai’i sanctuary is managed through a partnership of NOAA and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

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