Hawai'i State News

Volunteers observe thousands of humpbacks in latest statewide whale count of 2024

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More than 460 volunteers gathered data from the shores of Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Molokaʻi and the Big Island during the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count and from Maui and Lānaʻi during the Great Whale Count by Pacific Whale Foundation, the second of three coordinated whale counts between the two organizations in 2024.

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

Volunteers collected data from 45 sites across all the main Hawaiian Islands on Feb. 24. A total of 289 whales were observed during the 9:30 to 9:45 a.m. time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count.

Whale Count participants huddle under umbrellas at Hawaiian Paradise Park on Feb. 24. Photo Courtesy: George Correa

On Kaua‘i, the total number of whales observed during the day’s count was 239; on O‘ahu, the total was 363; on Molokaʻi, the total was 86; and on the Big Island, the total was 466.

The total number for the Great Whale Count on Maui was 948, and on Lānaʻi the total was 39, for a grand total of 2,141 throughout the main Hawaiian Islands. This number may represent duplicate sightings of the same whale by different observers or at different time periods or different locations throughout the day.

Data collected during the Sanctuary Ocean Count and Great Whale Count combined with other research efforts can help reveal trends in humpback whale occurrence within and amongst whale seasons.


Across the main Hawaiian Islands, weather conditions were not ideal for viewing whales with poor visibility across many sites due to rain, high surf and windy conditions. Some sites had to end the count early due to the poor weather conditions.

Despite the weather, koholā (humpback whales) and a variety of other species were still spotted during the count including honu (green sea turtles), ʻilioholoikauaua (Hawaiian monk seals), naiʻa (spinner dolphins), hāhālua (manta ray) and multiple bird species such as ʻiwa (great frigatebird), mōlī (Laysan albatross), Nēnē (Hawaiian goose), ʻā (brown booby) and more.

Observers look for humpback whales from Kaiaka Rock on Moloka‘i. Photo Courtesy: Maria Angst

Ocean Count promotes public awareness about humpback whales, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and shore-based whale watching opportunities. Site leaders 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  Kaua‘i, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi 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 and a new site on the shoreline of Lānaʻi. This event provides a snapshot of trends in relative abundance of whales and is one of the world’s longest-running community science projects.

Both counts take place three times during peak whale season annually on the last Saturday 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.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, 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.

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