Kauai numbers low for whale count

LIHUE — Few humpback whales showed up to be counted Saturday at the Kauai sites of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count.

Contrary to the other sites on Oahu and Hawaii Island, Kauai counts were low.

“The overall average number (unofficial) of whale sightings at all 15 sites on Kauai during a 15-minute count period was two,” said Jean Souza, the Kauai programs coordinator and sanctuary volunteer coordinator for the HIHWNMS. “This is low for a February count. The number of whale sightings ranged from less than one to four for the 15-minute count period. The largest number of sightings were at the Makahuena Point in Poipu and the Ninini Point in Lihue, where both sites reported four sightings. Seabirds were also observed at most sites on Kauai. Two sites, Kaiwa Point in Poipu and Crater Hill, within the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, observed rays near shore. Three sites observed dolphins.”

Souza said in comparison, the Jan. 28 count ranged from one to 10 whale sightings per 15-minute count period with the highest number of sightings being at the Makahuena Point and Mahaulepu-Makawehi Point.

Cindy Among-Serrao, spokesperson for the state sanctuary count office, said a total of 174 whale sightings were recorded during the 11:30 to 11:45 a.m. time period — the most of any period during the Saturday count.

“There were more whale sightings on Hawaii Island this Ocean Count compared to last month’s,” Among-Serrao said. “Conditions were generally overcast across the sites with flat and calm waters, and little to no wind which allowed for great whale-viewing conditions. Volunteers on Hawaii Island at the Ka Lae Ocean Count site had quite a show, viewing 23 breaches, an acrobatic display where the humpback uses its tail to launch itself out of the water then lands back on the surface with a splash, in just 15 minutes.”

Souza said there were 123 volunteers participating at the 15 Ocean Count sites on Kauai. Over 590 volunteers joined at 50 sites on Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island.

Naturalists and site leaders educated more than 220 people from the general public who visited the sites during the count period that ran from 8 a.m. and finished at 12:15 p.m.

This included the appearance of Jadrnka Kursa of Berlin, who recorded a piece for German Public Radio, and Mavis Aiu, who rendered an on-location drawing for Urban Sketchers, a nonprofit organization seeking to create a global community through artists who do on-location drawing.

“I was seeking ‘volunteer opportunities’ on the internet and came across this event,” said Kursa, a college professor in Germany. “I looked further into the Ocean Count and coordinated this trip through the Honolulu office. I do these freelance journalism reports whenever I travel.”

The count is conducted three times a year during the peak whale season of January through March, and provides a snapshot of humpback whale sightings from the shoreline.

Training for new ocean count volunteers, and those who need a refresher, will take place March 18 from 9 to 11 a.m. at the King Kaumualii Elementary School cafeteria in Hanamaulu. The final Ocean Count of 2017 will take place March 25.

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