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Whale count project might reinstate popular volunteer program

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / 2005
                                A humpback whale leaps out of the water in the channel off the town of Lahaina on the island of Maui in Hawaii.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS / 2005

    A humpback whale leaps out of the water in the channel off the town of Lahaina on the island of Maui in Hawaii.

This year’s citizen science project to tally humpback whale sightings in Hawaii has been modified again due to the COVID-19 pandemic, although small groups of volunteers might able to participate.

Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary will be holding the Ocean Count program this year to provide a snapshot of humpback whale activity, the sanctuary announced in a news release.

From the shorelines of Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii island, observers will tally the number of humpback whales this season. The whales migrate to Hawaii each winter to mate, calve and nurse their young.

Normally a popular event attended by hundreds, the Ocean Count program was modified last year because of the coronavirus. Only one or two trained site leaders participated in the program in 2021.

That will be the case again on Jan. 29, on the first day of the program. But the sanctuary said that “a small number of general volunteers” might be able to participate in the Feb. 26 and March 26 events, depending on COVID-19’s presence in Hawaii.

The decision to allow volunteers will be based on factors including state and county guidelines, and the safety of participants. Decisions will be made by Feb. 15 and March 15 for the events set to take place during those respective months.

The Great Whale Count on Maui, by the Pacific Whale Foundation, is similar in function to Ocean Count and will also run a modified program this year.

The Ocean Count program helps increase public awareness about humpback whales while providing volunteers with shore-based whale watching opportunities. Site leaders tally humpback whale sightings and document the whales’ behavior.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources.

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