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Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary

external linkSanctuary Ocean Count

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Volunteers Count Whales in NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary

Ocean Count volunteers

The Sanctuary Ocean Count started in 1996 with 150 volunteers and has grown to more than 1,850 volunteers this year.

humpback whales

Humpback whales in the singing position.

Every year in January, February, and March, volunteers count whales from the shores of O‘ahu, Kaua‘i, and the Big Island for the annual Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count. In 2010, more than 1,850 volunteers tallied humpback whale sightings and documented the animals’ surface behavior.

The Sanctuary Ocean Count began in 1996. It provides the public with a way to get involved in a marine mammal monitoring effort that provides a “snapshot” of the number of whales around the island at any one time.

Hawaiian waters provide critical breeding habitat for approximately two-thirds of the north Pacific stock of humpback whales. As many as 10,000 humpback whales winter in Hawaiian waters. Scientific studies have shown that Hawai‘i’s humpback whale population has been increasing at an annual rate of approximately seven percent.

sea turtle

Other marine wildlife seen during the Ocean Count included Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, spinner dolphins, and a variety of sea birds.

Varying weather conditions make the data difficult to compare from count to count, but over time, data from the Sanctuary Ocean Count can be used to corroborate scientific findings. Support by the community to collect this data can be used to enhance sanctuary education and conservation efforts.

The following are the average numbers of whales sighted per 15-minute count periods on each of the islands by date for the 2010 Sanctuary Ocean Count:

January 30, 2010:

March 6, 2010 (Rescheduled from February 27 due to tsunami warning):   

March 27, 2010:                        

“This year’s project was a great success with over 1,850 volunteers participating,” said Christine Brammer, sanctuary ocean count coordinator. “The Sanctuary Ocean Count project provides a unique opportunity for the public to learn about Hawai‘i’s humpbacks while participating in a monitoring effort.  Although the population of humpback whales is increasing, entanglement and vessel collisions still threaten the whales and whales still need protection.”  

For more information on how to become a Sanctuary Ocean Count volunteer in 2011, visit the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Web site. The count is held the last Saturday of January, February, and March of each year.

NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary protects humpback whales and their habitat in Hawaiian waters where they migrate each winter to mate, calve, and nurse their young.