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Humpback whale census set for Jan. 26

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Volunteers are needed to record whale behavior on three dates early this year. A mother humpback whale and her calf swim off the coast of Hawaii.
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KAILUA-KONA >> Hundreds of volunteers are needed in Hawaii to participate in a yearly census to count and record the behaviors of humpback whales.

As many as 12,000 humpback whales come to Hawaii annually, traveling 2,500 to 3,000 miles from their summer feeding areas near Alaska, West Hawaii Today reported.

The volunteers on Oahu, Hawaii island and Kauai will spend three Saturdays looking for whales as part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s Ocean Count. The count is a yearly shore-based census that provides snapshot data on whale population and distribution throughout Hawaii.

It will be held this year on Jan. 26, Feb. 23 and March 30.

The Pacific Whale Foundation organizes a similar whale count in Maui County.

The census can provide insight into how humpbacks use the inshore waters on a typical peak-season day, said Christine Brammer, Ocean Count project manager.

The goal of the Ocean Count, which was launched in 1996, is to record the number of humpback whales sighted in a four-hour period from various shore sites statewide.

Brammer said this information provides a better understanding of population density and helps the sanctuary distinguish trends.

In 1993 it was estimated 6,000 whales existed in the North Pacific, of which 4,000 came to Hawaii.

Scientific studies have shown the population in Hawaii is increasing at an annual rate of about 7 percent.

The Ocean Count does not claim to provide scientifically accurate results, but Brammer said it does provide an approximation of humpback whale numbers and distribution patterns over the years. It also serves as a tool to supplement scientific information and other research activities.

She said the count helped show that humpback whales are utilizing other parts of the ocean.

When the population was lower, whales were commonly sighted in the waters off Maui and North Kona. Today the whales have expanded beyond those areas, including in Hilo Bay, where no whales were sighted for more than a decade, she said.

To volunteer or for more information, call 888-55-WHALE, ext. 253. Also, visit hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov/involved/ocvolunteer.html.

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