March Kauai whale count numbers good

POIPU — The final 2017 Kauai Ocean Count took place Saturday under sunny and clear skies, although some wind in the later morning hours created chop and white caps which hindered the sightings of whales.

But that didn’t keep the numbers from being good.

“Overall, sightings of humpback whales at the Kauai sites was higher than expected for a March count,” said Jean Souza, the Kauai programs coordinator for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

“Based on the informal tally, Kauai sites averaged two whales per 15-minute count period. This is nearly double the average number of whales sighted on Oahu and Hawaii Island.”

Cindy Among-Serraro, the Sanctuary Ocean Count project coordinator from Oahu, said more than 380 volunteers gathered data at 48 sites from the shores of Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii Island on Saturday.

A total of 85 whale sightings were recorded during the 8:30 to 8:45 a.m. time period — the most of any time period during the day’s count.

The day finished with Kauai reporting two whale sightings during a 15-minute time period, compared with the one sighting each reported by Oahu and Hawaii counters.

Souza said volunteers at North Shore sites, including the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge — Kilauea Lighthouse (four sightings per 15-minute count period) and Crater Hill (five sightings per 15-minute count period) — and The Cliffs at Princeville sighted more whales Saturday than they did during the Feb. 25 count. These were among the top sites for March.

Poipu Beach Park came in the unofficial tally as “less than one” despite the sightings of blows and backs by volunteers.

“Poipu Beach Park, due to its elevation near sea level, has more whales than indicated due to the timing of the count periods versus when the whales showed themselves,” Souza said.

“We had a full breach in the first 30 minutes of the count,” said Bruce Parsil, the naturalist at the site. “And even before the count started, volunteers saw a monk seal swimming in the water before it hauled out at the tumbolo at the Poipu Beach Park.”

Parsil and his wife Christy were among the 92 volunteers who participated in the final count at 15 sites on Kauai.

Parsil was among the naturalists who offered whale education to nearly 200 members of the public during the count.

Ed Schepker, the site leader at Kaiwa Point at Poipu, reported a mom and calf at that site all morning.

“Occasionally, a singleton would join the pair,” Souza said. “Mom and calves normally prefer the protected nearshore areas. Mike Kano, the site leader at Ninini Lighthouse, similarly observed a mom and calf deep within Kalapaki Bay before the count.”

The Ocean Count serves to promote public awareness about humpback whales, the sanctuary, and shore-based whale watching opportunities.

The count is conducted three times each year during the peak whale sighting season, providing a snapshot of humpback whale sightings from the shoreline.

Count volunteers tally humpback whale sightings and document the animals’ surface behaviors during the survey.

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