The Sanctuary Ocean Count, the signature outreach project for NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, was named the Take Pride in America Outstanding Federal Volunteer Program during an Oct. 11 ceremony in Washington, D.C. Take Pride in America® is a nationwide partnership program authorized by Congress to promote the appreciation and stewardship of our nation’s public lands.
The annual Sanctuary Ocean Count, launched in 1996 when 150 volunteers took to the shorelines of Oahu to count Hawaii’s endangered whale population and document the animals’ surface behavior, now draws more than 2,300 volunteers across Oahu, Kauai, and Hawaii. In the past 17 years, more than 20,000 volunteers have contributed more than 100,000 hours of in-kind support.
The goal of the Ocean Count project is to increase public awareness of the sanctuary and current ocean issues, including threats to humpback whales while also promoting responsible viewing of all marine wildlife. The project offers Hawaii residents and visitors an opportunity to monitor humpback whales in their breeding grounds by conducting a yearly shore-based census during the peak season.
Although the census does not claim to provide scientifically accurate results, it serves as a tool to supplement scientific information gathered from other research activities. The count also provides snapshot data as well as information on how whales use inshore waters on a typical peak season day.
Humpback whale season in Hawaii generally runs from November through May, although whales may be encountered in limited numbers during other months. More than 10,000 humpback whales winter in Hawaiian waters each year. The 2013 Sanctuary Ocean Count will be held the last Saturday of January, February and March. Registration will begin in December.
Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is administered by a partnership of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the State of Hawaii through the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The sanctuary works to protect humpback whales through research, education, conservation and stewardship.
The Take Pride in America program is administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior for the benefit of all public lands at all levels of government nationwide. In 2011, the Channel Islands Naturalist Corps volunteer program, a joint effort by Channel Islands National Park and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, was the Take Pride in America federal award winner for coordinating more than 140 volunteers who are specially trained to educate visitors.