Ocean Blog

Whales Abound in Hawaiian Waters, Counts Say

Listen to this Article
4 minutes
Loading Audio... Article will play after ad...
Playing in :00

Lanikai. PC: Gabriele Finn

On Feb. 29, more than 650 volunteers at 51 sites across the shores of Hawai‘i Island, O‘ahu and Kaua‘i took part in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count, along with the Great Whale Count by Pacific Whale Foundation in Maui.

This the second of three coordinated whale counts between the two organizations in 2020, and the second year that both counts are coordinated on the same days, ensuring the data from all the main Hawaiian Islands are collected simultaneously.

Volunteers tabulated a total of 191 whale sightings during the 8:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. time period, the most of any time period throughout the day.

On the islands of Hawai‘i, O‘ahu, and Kaua‘i, Ocean Count volunteers collected data from 39 sites and a total of 138 whale sightings were reported during the 8:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. time period. Volunteers were also able to educate 647 members of the public who stopped by for more information during the count.


On Maui, Great Whale Count volunteers collected data from 12 sites during 15-minute intervals between 8:30 a.m. and 11:50 a.m. A total of 70 whale sightings were seen during the 9:30 a.m. to 9:45 am time period, the most of any time period throughout the day.

Lanai Lookout. PC: Paul Hasley

Across the main Hawaiian Islands, weather conditions were partly cloudy with rain showers and areas of high wind, making for challenging sighting conditions. Several sites were impacted and had to cancel the count or dismiss the count early due to strong winds and heavy rain.

“Due to the poor visibility today, our count is likely an under-estimation of the number of whales present in Maui Nui,” said Stephanie Stack, Pacific Whale Foundation chief biologist.

The same also applies to the islands of Hawai‘i, O‘ahu and Kaua‘i. 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. Sea turtles, spinner dolphins, Hawaiian monk seals and several sea birds such as frigate birds, shearwaters, albatross and more were seen at multiple sites across the main Hawaiian Islands.


Ocean Count promotes public awareness about humpback whales, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and shore-based whale watching opportunities. Volunteer participants tally humpback whale sightings and document the animals’ surface behavior during the survey, which provides a snapshot of humpback whales activity from the shorelines of O‘ahu, Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Islands.

Punaluu Black Sands Beach. PC: Michelle Nason

The annual Great Whale Count by Pacific Whale Foundation brings volunteers together to count whales from shore as part of a long-term survey of humpback whales in Hawai’i, with 12 survey sites along the shoreline of Maui. This event provides a snapshot of trends in the relative abundance of whales and is one of the world’s longest-running citizen scientist projects.

Both counts will take place three times during peak whale season: the last Saturdays in January, February and March of 2020.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s Great Whale Count data and volunteer sign-up may be found online.


Preliminary data detailing Sanctuary Ocean Count whale sightings by site location and volunteer sign-up are available by clicking this link. Additional information will be available on Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s website.

With a mission to protect the ocean through science and advocacy, and to inspire environmental stewardship, Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) conducts research, education and conservation programs for the communities in which it serves.

Kaena Point West. PC: Cindy Among-Serrao

Founded by Greg Kaufman in 1980 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the world’s whales from extinction, PWF now operates a social enterprise that offers fee-based programs and services through PacWhale Eco-Adventures to help fund its nonprofit work. Combined with memberships, donations, charitable grants and a remarkable group of dedicated volunteers, PWF now reaches more than 400,000 individuals each year through its Maui and Australia offices and research projects in Ecuador and Chile.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, which is administered by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the State of Hawai‘i Division of Aquatic Resources, protects humpback whales and their habitat in Hawaiian waters where they migrate each winter to mate, calve and nurse their young.

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, established in 2000, is the official nonprofit partner of the National Marine Sanctuary System. The Foundation directly supports national marine sanctuaries by protecting species, conserving ecosystems and preserving America’s maritime heritage through on-the-water conservation projects, public education and outreach programs, as well as scientific research and exploration.

Sponsored Content

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay in-the-know with daily or weekly
headlines delivered straight to your inbox.


This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Big Island Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments