March 28, 2016||Big Island: Weather and Nature

Citizen Science: Counting Whales in the 2016 Ocean Count

One of the joys of living in Hawaii is seeing humpback whales in the winter months. I haven’t seen many this year so I thought I would spend some time looking by participating in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s annual Ocean Count.

Every last Saturday of January, February and March volunteers gather at designated sites around the islands to count whales and whale behavior. I chose Pu’ukohola National Refuge at Kawaihae, a great vantage point to see whales and the sunniest spot on the island. Even though the forecast was for possible heavy showers this weekend, Kawaihae lived up to its reputation; the skies cleared and you could see for miles.

We worked in pairs, one scanning the ocean for whales and the other logging the number of whales, calves, breaches, tail, fin or head slaps, and dives. We started over every half hour switching roles. We only saw a few whales, which was disappointing, but not unexpected as whales sightings have been fewer than last year. Some scientists believe it had to do with El Nino and warmer waters up north that delayed their 3,000-mile journey.

What kept us going was a mother and calf pair which would reappear at the end of each half-hour segment like clockwork and we were able to log them in each half hour. And there was so much else to see–black tip sharks swimming in the bay below us, paddlers, kayakers, spearfishermen, paddleboarders, all kinds of boats, and, of course, that view! And I made a new friend. It was a fine way to spend a morning.


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