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Four hundred volunteers gathered data from the shores of O‘ahu, Kaua‘i and the Big Island at Saturday’s eighth annual Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count to tally sightings and document surface behaviors of the endangered humpback whales. Kaho‘olawe, was canceled this month due to bad weather conditions. The same was true for the majority of sites on the Big Island and a few on O‘ahu. The sanctuary, which is managed by Commerce Department’s NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, monitors the status of the whales that migrate in the winter to Hawaiian waters to breed, calve and nurse.
Volunteers collected data from 32 sites statewide. The numbers listed below represent the average number of whales sighted per 15-minute count period on each of the islands. Unusual weather conditions may have affected the counts for this month.
Scientific studies have shown that Hawai’i’s humpback whale population has been increasing at an annual rate of approximately seven percent for the last 10 years. Over time, data from the Sanctuary Ocean Count can be used to corroborate these scientific findings. Hawaiian waters provide critical breeding habitat for an estimated 5,000 whales, or approximately two-thirds of the North Pacific stock of humpback whales.
“Aside from the numerical findings, the Sanctuary Ocean Count is an important education and outreach project for the sanctuary,” says Christine Brammer, Sanctuary Ocean Count coordinator. “The Ocean Count is a unique opportunity to learn about Hawai‘i’s humpbacks and to contribute to on-going research. It’s wonderful to see that so many volunteers turned out for today’s Ocean Count, even with the bad weather.”
Volunteer participants enjoy the four hours they spend observing the majestic humpbacks and many come back year after year for the experience. Some volunteers are familiar with seeing whales, and some volunteers may see whales for the first time on the day of the count.
One more Sanctuary Ocean Count is scheduled for March 27. Final results of the Ocean Count will be analyzed and compiled, and will be available on the sanctuary Web site in the Fall of 2004. For more information on becoming a Sanctuary Ocean Count volunteer, contact the appropriate sanctuary office. On the Big Island call 1-(888) 55-WHALE. On O‘ahu call 397-2656. On Kaua‘i call 1-(808) 246-2860. A whale count on Maui is conducted independently by the Pacific Whale Foundation.
The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is administered by a partnership of the NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program and the State of Hawai`i Department of Land and Natural Resources.
NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program (NMSP) seeks to increase the public awareness of America’s maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, 13 national marine sanctuaries encompass more than 18,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.
NOAA’s National Ocean Service manages the NMSP and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving and restoring the nation’s coasts and oceans. The National Ocean Service balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards.
The Commerce Department’s NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.
On the Web:
National Ocean Service: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov
National Marine Sanctuary Program: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov
Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary: http://hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov