A total of 117 humpback whales were spotted last month at 42 sites across Hawaii’s four major isles during an annual count of humpback whales in the Hawaiian islands.
The Feb. 27 count was the second of three coordinated whale counts this season by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary on Kauai, Oahu and Hawaii island, and the Pacific Whale Foundation on Maui.
The sanctuary and foundation modified the count this year, without the normal participation of volunteers due to COVID-19 safety precautions. Instead, trained leaders monitored each site, and worked individually or in couples, to provide a snapshot of the abundance of whales in Hawaii.
Out of the 117 humpback whale sightings — 83 were seen from 9 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. Saturday on Kauai, Oahu, and Hawaii island, the most throughout the morning’s count. Another 34 whales were sighted from 8:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. Saturday, the most of any time period that day, on Maui.
Weather conditions statewide Saturday were not ideal for whale viewing due to strong winds and high surf at the majority of the sites. Some were heavily impacted by rain, and had to cancel or end their counts early.
In January, site leaders tallied 177 whale sightings at 43 sites on the four islands, according to a news release.
The ocean counts are usually conducted annually with the help of public volunteers to raise awareness about humpback whales and the sanctuary as well as shore-based whale watching opportunities.
Wildlife officials are also warning boaters to watch out for an abundance of mother and calf humpback whale pairs in the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and nearby waters.
Hawaii’s whale season usually runs from November to May, when thousands of humpback whales visit the waters around the Hawaiian islands to breed, give birth, and nurse their young.
The sanctuary is made up of five separate areas abutting six of the main isles in the state, but centered mostly around the isles of Molokai, Lanai and Maui.
During last month’s count, site leaders also saw green sea turtles, spinner dolphins, several seabirds including albatross, shearwaters, frigate birds — and a rainbow.
The third and final shoreline whale count takes place on March 27.