Whale-awareness month filled with events

LIHU’E — Jean Souza, Kaua’i program coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, has been busy.

With a training workshop scheduled to begin Saturday at 10 a.m. in preparation for the first Sanctuary Ocean Count, Souza said she can still use volunteers, but those volunteers need to be trained prior to visiting one of 15 sites established for the three counts scheduled this year.

The first of these counts is scheduled for Jan. 28, and a final training workshop will be held at the marine sanctuary office in the Kukui Grove Professional Village on Jan. 26 from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.

The Sanctuary Ocean Count is a shore-based monitoring project for humpback whales and other marine mammals involving special methods of counting and recording surface behaviors.

The second count is scheduled for Feb. 25, and the final count will be held on Mar. 25. Final training for volunteers will be held on Thursday, Feb. 23, and Thursday, Mar. 23 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at the marine sanctuary office, for those counts.

Souza, and her assistant, Sheri Knapp, have a calendar filled with activities revolving around the humpback whale, as well as related ocean arenas that affect the endangered mammal. Some of these are ongoing research projects, while others have been designed to give the public greater awareness of the dangers facing the ocean mammal, and how they can become a part of the recovery effort of the humpback whale.

Last year, O’ahu officials hosted a national whale-awareness month, and Souza liked the idea and concept well enough to bring it back to Kaua’i, where February has been designated Humpback Whale Awareness Month.

In addition to the annual Ocean Counts, Souza said there will be two “Brownbag With Whales” outings at the state Ahukini pier parking lot, where members of the public can bring their sack lunches, and visit with NOAA volunteers who can help answer questions and provide information on the whales that can be seen from the shoreline.

These lunches are scheduled for Feb. 3 and Feb. 24, from 11 a.m. to noon. There is no fee to attend.

Additionally, Souza said NOAA volunteers will also host a Shoreline Whale Watch at the beach fronting the Kauai Beach Hotel & Resort (former the Radisson Kauai Beach Resort) at Nukoli’i on Feb. 18. The public is invited to this event that runs from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The shoreline watch coincides with a visit from Dr. Paul E. Nachtigall, who will present a lecture, “Hearing and Echolocation of Whales and Dolphins,” at the Kaua’i Beach Hotel & Resort on Feb. 19 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Nachtigall has been studying the hearing and echolocation of whales and dolphins at the University of Hawai’i’s Institute of Marine Biology for the past 12 years, and has developed a new technique to test the hearing of these marine creatures.

Sound is important to marine mammals, who use it when they forage, communicate, search, and care for their young. Yet little is known about what most species of whales and dolphins hear.

As part of the awareness month, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (HIHWNMS) officials will also be hosting Dr. Ed Lyman, considered one the of nation’s leaders in disentanglement of whales.

Lyman will present a multi-media program at the Lihu’e Public Library on large-whale disentanglement, the methods used, stories behind the headlines on some of the disentanglement efforts, and the increased capabilities in Hawai’i.

Lyman’s presentation is Feb. 3, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Since 1966, Lyman has been involved in the disentanglement of more than 50 right whales and humpback whales in Hawai’i, the East Coast, and Alaska.

Mark Deakos, one of the lead people involved in the multi-year SPLASH (Structure of Population, Levels of Abundance, and Status of Humpback Whales) program, will also take time away from his ongoing research to present public lectures at both the Koloa Public/School Library and Waimea Public Library.

Dates and times for those public talks will be announced.

Souza explained that the Kaua’i segment of SPLASH will be taking place in February, and in conjunction with the awareness-month program, Deakos has agreed to share some of his knowledge with the people of Kaua’i.

The SPLASH study is designed to provide useful data to evaluate a number of human impacts in a more comprehensive manner than has ever been possible before, she explained.

Some of these threats include entanglement in manmade ropes and nets, vessel strikes, degraded water quality, and underwater noise.

Souza said one phase of the research involves teams going out in small boats to photograph flukes of whales that are used for identification purposes. Additionally, these crews will also collect DNA samples from the whales, using specially-designed darts.

Data from these research projects will significantly contribute to a better understanding of the species in the future.

Despite a full calendar of research projects and public presentations, Souza said she and Knapp are available to work with teachers and students at schools, who are working on whale projects.

Last year, Souza noted that Eleele School students and teachers conducted their own Ocean Count with the help of NOAA volunteers, and a Hawaiian charter school highlighted their day outing to Kekaha Beach Park by constructing a life-sized sand sculpture of a mother humpback whale and her calf, as well as a variety of other marine animals.

She also noted that whale awareness also involves educating boaters about what to do when in the vicinity of whales. An Ocean Users handbook covers not only information about the whales, but what boaters can do to ensure the safety of both themselves and the whales. This booklet is available at the marine sanctuary office, and boaters can request copies to be mailed to them, she said.

For more information on any of the whale-awareness programs, or to schedule appointments for Souza and her NOAA volunteers at school projects, people may call the sanctuary office at 246-2860.

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