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Whale Count for the 2021 Season

February 28, 2021, 8:38 AM HST
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Site leaders gathered data from the shores of O‘ahu, Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i islands during the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count and from Maui during the Great Whale Count by Pacific Whale Foundation. This was the second of three coordinated whale counts between the two organizations in 2021. Due to COVID-19 safety precautions, the sanctuary and Pacific Whale Foundation are running modified programs without the normal participation of volunteers. Instead, each site is monitored by trained site leaders working individually or as a couple.

This is the third year that both counts are coordinated on the same days, ensuring the data from all the main Hawaiian Islands are collected simultaneously.

Site leaders collected data from 42 sites across all the main Hawaiian Islands on Feb. 27, 2021.

On the islands of Hawai‘i, O‘ahu, and Kaua‘i, Ocean Count site leaders collected data from 30 sites during 15-minute intervals between 8 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. A total of 83 whale sightings were seen during the 9 – 9:15 a.m. time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count.

On Maui, Great Whale Count site leaders collected data from 12 sites during 15-minute intervals between 8:30 a.m. and 11:50 a.m. A total of 34 whale sightings were seen during the 8:30 to 8:45 a.m. time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count.

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Across the main Hawaiian Islands, weather conditions were not ideal whale viewing conditions with strong winds and high surf present at the majority of sites. Many sites also experienced rainy conditions periodically throughout the count. A few sites were heavily impacted by the rain and had to either cancel or end the count early. A variety of other species were also spotted during the count including honu (green sea turtles), spinner dolphins and multiple seabird species (Ex. Albatross, shearwaters, frigate birds etc.).

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Ocean users can follow whale watching guidelines provided in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s Ocean Etiquette at https://hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov/visit/boating.html and Pacific Whale Foundation’s Be Whale Aware https://pacificwhale.org/conservation/be-whale-aware-and-dolphin-wise programs.

Ocean Count promotes public awareness about humpback whales, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, and shore-based whale watching opportunities. Site leaders tally humpback whale sightings during the survey, which provides a snapshot of humpback whales activity from the shorelines of O‘ahu, Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i islands. Ocean Count is supported by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

The Great Whale Count by Pacific Whale Foundation had site leaders 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 relative abundance of whales and is one of the world’s longest-running community science projects.

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

Preliminary data detailing Sanctuary Ocean Count whale sightings by site location are available at https://oceancount.org/resources/

Additional information is available on the sanctuary’s website at http://hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s Great Whale Count data may be found at https://www.pacificwhale.org/research/community-science/ with additional information at www.mauiwhalefestival.org

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. 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.

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