More whales than most

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

    Marga Goosen and Coleen Ogino discuss ocean activity, Saturday while a large wave hammers the Ahukini breakwater during the Sanctuary Ocean Count.

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

    Ocean Count volunteers Andy Hamano and Tom Bovee scan the ocean, Saturday while a wave hammers the Ahukini breakwater during the Sanctuary Ocean Count.

LIHU‘E — Despite the blustery weather, Kaua‘i island with just 11 sites operating, posted the most average number of whales viewed per 15-minute count period at 2.4 whales “counted”, Saturday during the Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count for February.

This is more than O‘ahu that posted an average of 2.3 whales, and Hawai‘i island who reported just two whales seen per 15-minute count period.

“Ninini Point which recorded the most humpback whale sightings during the January count was not used due to strong winds and salt spray that created unsafe conditions for the volunteers,” said Jean Souza, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary program specialist. “Site leader Mike Kano reported observing a couple of whale blows, but the conditions were too difficult from the start.”

The blustery weather made viewing difficult, but did not stop the staunch group at the Ahukini Landing site led by site leader Marga Goosen.

“The whitecaps make it hard to see,” said volunteer counter Andy Hamano. “You can’t tell whether it’s sea spray, or a whale.”

Whale viewing was most active at Ahukini between the 8 a.m. start and continuing until 9:15 a.m. when an average of two whale activities were seen in a 15-minute count period. That number dropped to no sightings after the 9:15 a.m. period through the remainder of the count.

Kaua‘i volunteers joined the more than 650 volunteers who gathered data from the shorelines of Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i island, and Maui during the second of three ocean counts.

The volunteers worked from 51 sites across the Hawaiian Islands with a total of 191 whale sightings being seen during the 8:30 to 8:45 a.m. count period — the most of any time period throughout the day, according to Cindy Among-Serrao.

“Although weather conditions were not ideal for viewing whales at the majority of sites, folks were still able to spot some whales in addition to other species, including sea turtles, spinner dolphins, Hawaiian monk seals, and several sea birds such as frigate birds, shearwaters, albatross, and more,” Among-Serrao said. “Volunteers were also able to educate 647 members of the public who stopped by for more information during the count.”

On Kaua‘i, the Kapa‘a Overlook recorded the most humpback whales sighted in a 15-minute count period with nearly four whales, followed by Makahuena Point in Po‘ipu, Souza said.

“This is great,” said Lisa Conner, a first-time volunteer with her daughter Allyson, an eighth grade student. “The hardest part is trying to keep your hats on. The wind is definitely warm compared to Alaska from where we moved from, three weeks ago. We learned about this at the Kaua‘i Ocean Discovery and signed up to get more involved with marine studies, one of Allyson’s subjects.”

The Ocean Count promotes public awareness about humpback whales, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, and shore-based whale watching opportunities. The next count is on March 28, and volunteers can register online at oceancount.org.

Souza will conduct a humpback whale and ocean count training session, March 21 starting at 11 a.m. at the Kaua‘i Ocean Discovery center at the Kukui Grove Center.

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

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