Whale count will go on

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fishers via AP file photo

    The tail of a humpback whale flips out of the water off the coast of the Big Island.

  • Reed Saxon / Associated Press file photo

    A humpback whale leaps out of the water near Lahaina, Maui.

LIHUE — The whales are back in Hawaiian waters, and the annual Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count is ready to take place Jan. 26 despite the federal government shutdown.

Normally coordinated by the HIHWNMS, this year’s count will be coordinated by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, a nonprofit partner with the National Marine Sanctuary System, states an announcement from the NMSF.

“Through the support of dedicated volunteers, Ocean Count has provided more than 20 years of data that supplements scientific research and helps monitor humpback whales during their annual migration to the Hawaiian Islands,” said Kris Sarri, NMSF president and CEO.

“Fewer humpback whales are being observed in the main Hawaiian Islands during the recent years, and we don’t know why. The critical sanctuary research that could help us understand these changes is currently on hold, indefinitely, due to the government shutdown,” he added.

The ocean count, normally conducted on the last Saturday of January, February, and March during the peak whale season, will be held because the NMSF is stepping up to ensure the count is not interrupted.

Volunteers wishing to participate in the Kauai Ocean Count on at least 15 different sites around the island need to register by Jan. 18 at www.oceancount.org.

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation estimates that more than 300 volunteers are expected to participate in the Jan. 26 count. Other counts in the 2019 period will be held on Feb. 23 and March 30.

New volunteers are required to attend training that will be held 9 to 11:30 a.m. a.m. Jan. 19 at Kukui Grove Center in a space adjacent to the Kauai Society of Artists gallery.

The announcement states that if the federal shutdown is still in effect, this training will be canceled. Volunteers who are registered for the count will be notified by email of any group training cancellation.

The volunteers will instead be treated to a short training session conducted by site leaders on the day of the Jan. 26 count.

The Ocean Count, a community citizen science project, gives citizens an opportunity to provide a snapshot of humpback whale sightings from shoreline vantage points. This is done through participants’ sightings and documenting the animals’ surface behavior during the four-hour count period.

Similar efforts are conducted on Maui with the Pacific Whale Foundation.

Information: www.oceancount.org, or email oceancount@marinesanctuary.org

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Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@thegardenisland.com.

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