The Pacific Whale Foundation will once again host the “Great Whale Count” on Saturday, inviting volunteers and citizen scientists to count whales from shore as part of a long-term survey of humpback whales in Hawaii.
The first count takes place, in coordination with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s annual Ocean Count on Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island, from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday. Subsequent counts take place on Feb. 23 and March 30.
The foundation is interested in the recent shift in humpback whale populations within Maui County waters, and the counts provide a snapshot of trends.
“The economic benefit of citizen science is incredibly important to researchers, who can only collect a small amount of data themselves and are often facing budgetary restrictions,” remarks Pacific Whale Foundation Chief Biologist Stephanie Stack, “By crowdsourcing data collection, researchers can learn much more about the natural environment than they can with individual effort.”
The Sanctuary’s annual ocean count is continuing despite the federal government shutdown after its national nonprofit partner, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, stepped in.
“There is scientific evidence that the peak of whale season is shifting earlier, towards January and we wanted to capture that information in our data set,” said Stack. “We also wanted to better align our event with the Sanctuary Ocean Count, as we use very similar methodologies so our data can be compared, and their counts take place on Oahu, Kauai, and the Big Island so we have a comprehensive snapshot of the trends across the main Hawaiian islands.”
Kris Sarri, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation confirmed that fewer humpback whales are being observed in the main Hawaiian islands in recent years, but researchers do not yet know the exact reasons why.
Stack said while citizen science cannot replace dedicated research surveys, it supplements knowledge and remains an important outreach tool, and the data gathered can be used to inform management, resource allocation, policy, and planning.
“For example, the website Happy Whale has made collaboration between humpback whale researchers much easier than it was in the past,” she said in the release. “To compare ID catalogs between different organizations/regions used to be so time-consuming that researchers just didn’t bother. By using citizen scientists to do the comparisons, and submit photos from all over the world, there is a more collaborative approach to research and we are increasing our knowledge about the movement patterns of whales.”
Participants for Pacific Whale Foundation’s Great Whale Count must register in advance at mauiwhalefestival.org/greatwhalecount.