Active Ocean Count offers thrills

LIHUE — Bev Broughton of Vancouver, British Columbia, saw her first whale Saturday at the Ahukini viewing site.

“We come from an area where there are whales,” said Broughton. “This is the first whale I’ve seen, and it was very exciting.”

Broughton was accompanying volunteers, headed by site leader Lani Tamanaha-Broadbent and naturalist Colleen Ogino, at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count.

“We have 10 counters and ‘friends,’” Tamanaha-Broadbent said. “There are some who came along with the counters.”

A total of 133 volunteers participated at 15 sites in the second of three Kauai Ocean Counts for 2015.

Nancy Daschbach of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said there were more than 889 volunteers participating at 55 sites on Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii Island Saturday.

“We had highly variable viewing conditions,” said Jean Souza, the HIHWNMS Kauai programs coordinator. “Two sites, the Lumahai and Princeville, shut down at 9 a.m. due to rain. Other sites enjoyed perfect conditions with calm seas, sunshine and lots of whales reported at Kaiwa Point in Poipu and the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.”

Souza said the East Shore sites reported strong winds generating white caps which made viewing more challenging.

The average number of whales sighted during a 15-minute count period on Kauai was six, with the highest number of whales observed at Crater Hill at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.

“They counted an average of 10 per 15-minute count period,” Souza said. “Other sites ranged from four to 16 whales per 15-minute count period. Kilauea Lighthouse averaged nine whales while the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Mana reported 18 whales sighted between 8 and 8:15 a.m.”

Daschbach said a state total of 105 whales were seen during the 8:30 to 8:45 a.m. time period — the most of any time period throughout the count.

Other species reported during the count included dolphins, green sea turtles and various seabirds.

“One site, Kaiwa Point, saw spinner dolphins all day,” Souza said. “Carol Everett, the site leader, said there were too many to count. She also observed all of the surface behaviors normally exhibited by humpback whales in Hawaii, including breaches and male competition behavior.”

This is the 20th anniversary of the HIHWNMS Ocean Count, which is conducted three times each year during peak whale season. It is a shore-based census which provides snapshot data on humpback whales. Volunteers tally humpback whale sightings and document the animals’ surface behavior during the survey.

The final count is scheduled for March 28, and volunteers can register online at www.sanctuaryoceancount.org, or by calling 246-2860. Registration will close one week prior to the count.

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