Weather hampers whale sightings

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

    Marga Goosen and volunteers at the Sanctuary Ocean Count Ahukini Landing site are distracted from their ocean scanning by a departing airline, Saturday.

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

    Volunteers at the Sanctuary Ocean Count Kapaa Lookout site are joined by wild fowl scratching for food, Saturday.

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

    Seventeen volunteers for the Sanctuary Ocean Count scan the ocean for signs of marine life, Saturday at the Kapaa Lookout site.

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

    John Burger listens to the spotter before training his binoculars on a sighting, Saturday at the Sanctuary Ocean Count at the Kapaa Lookout site.

KAPAA — “The whales are there,” said John Burger. “It’s just that we can’t see them.”

Burger was the site leader for the Kapaa Lookout, one of 14 sites where the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary hosted its second Ocean Count Saturday. He was one of about 650 volunteers collecting data from the shores of Oahu, Kauai, and the Hawaii Island, and one of 150 volunteers on Kauai participating in the second of three counts for 2018.

“Today, the weather is a problem,” Berger said. “The whales are out there, but you need binoculars to see them because they’re so far out. The wind is also so strong, you don’t have much chance to see the blows — they don’t hang because the wind blows them away.”

During the count period which started at 8 a.m. and ran through 12:15 p.m., Cindy Among-Serrao, the Sanctuary Ocean Count Project Coordinator, said a total of 135 whale sightings were reported during the 10 a.m. to 10:15 a.m., the most of any time period throughout the count.

Kauai’s most active sites were the Lumahai Overlook with site leader Susan Ferrell, The Cliffs at Princeville with site leader Sharlene McCormick each averaging four sightings within a 15-minute time period, and Mahauleu-Makawehi Point with Mary Werthwine as the site leader reporting an average of three sightings, said Jean Souza, the Sanctuary Ocean Count Kauai contact.

While most site leaders reported the humpback whales being far offshore, Ferrell at the Lumahai Lookout site reported the whales were very “surface active” during a 30-minute span from 9 to 9:30 a.m. with 14 breaches, and 13 slaps — a combination of tail slaps, pec slaps, and head slaps. Another active period emerged from 11:30 a.m. to noon with 17 breaches and 40 slaps being observed.

This year’s Kauai average ended at two whales being seen during a 15-minute time span. It is identical with the 2017 February average.

“We saw fishermen,” said Marga Goosen, site leader at Ahukini Landing. “But the waves were really big, and they didn’t last very long. There were, however, a lot more birds.”

Turtles, dolphins, and one Hawaiian monk seal were also counted, Souza said. Werthwine also reported a flock of Koloa ducks flying over Kaiwa Point.

The third and final Sanctuary Ocean Count for 2018 will take place on March 31. Training for new volunteers will take place on March 24 at the Sanctuary’s Kauai office in Lihue. Online registration is being done at sanctuaryoceancount.org/register, or calling 246-2860.

The Sanctuary Ocean Count promotes public awareness about humpback whales, the sanctuary and shore-based whale-watching opportunities. It is held three times each year during peak whale season. Participants tally humpback whale sightings and document the animals’ surface behavior during the survery, providing a snapshot of humpback whales activity from the shoreline.

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