Whale counting well underway

People need to understand humpback whales so the right decisions can be made to protect them, said Jim Whyte of Vancouver Island, Canada.

Jim and his wife Carol were first-time counters at the annual ocean count coordinated by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

“This is spectacular,” Jim said from his post at the Kapaa Lookout site. “We are familiar with studies on ocean creatures because at Port McNeill in Canada, people study orcas and it is the summer home of the humpback whales we’re counting today. But the volunteer movement you have to conduct the count is nothing like we have back home.”

Jean Souza, the Kauai Programs coordinator for HIHWNMS said 163 trained volunteers took up positions at 15 sites around Kauai for the Sanctuary Ocean Count Saturday, the first of three counts scheduled for the 2014 humpback whale season.

“Of the three islands participating in the Sanctuary Ocean Count, Kauai volunteers saw an island average of six humpback whales during a 15-minute count period,” Souza said in an email. “The average for Oahu was two, and Maui averaged four sightings in the 15-minute count period.”

Weather conditions started out good with visibility from shore with some sites experiencing gusty wind conditions, a factor which affected the volunteers’ ability to see calves.

Souza said generally, on Kauai, more whales were sighted on the east and south shores with more calves being sighted from Crater Hill and from the Ninini Lighthouse in Lihue to Makahuena Point in Poipu.

She said this could probably be attributed to the heavy surf activity on the north and west shores which generated warnings and advisories last week.

Fiona Langenberger of the HIHWNMS on Oahu said two more Sanctuary Ocean Counts are schedule to take place on Feb. 22 and March 29. People interested in signing up for the remaining counts can visit www.hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov, or www.sanctuaryoceancount.org to register.

Souza said the public can report any suspected violation of the 100-yard rule violations and other incidents of humpback whale harassment or disturbance calling (800) 853-1964, or 274-3521 or the after-hours conservation hotline at 643-3567.

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