Posted on: February 15, 2011

Great Maui Whale Count To Be Held on Saturday, February 26

Residents and visitors will be assembling at 12 sites along Maui's shores on Saturday, February 26, to tally the number of humpback whales in view, as part of the annual Great Maui Whale Count, sponsored and led by the nonprofit Pacific Whale Foundation.

 
“We have nearly 150 counters signed up to take part in the count,” says Daniela Maldini, PhD, Research Director at Pacific Whale Foundation. “We’re very grateful for the many volunteers who want to assist with this effort.”
 
Pacific Whale Foundation limits the number of volunteers participating in the count to minimize errors in data collection and sightings. Currently, there are a few openings available for counters at select locations. If you would like to take part, please call (808) 249-8811 ext. 1 or visit http://www.mauiwhalefestival.org/. There is no cost to be part of The Great Whale Count, and all tools and training will be provided by Pacific Whale Foundation. It's a great way to learn about whales and marine research, and meet others who share your interest in whales. 
 
 
Pacific Whale Foundation is Maui's oldest and largest marine conservation organization. Pacific Whale Foundation researchers have conducted field studies of humpback whales in Hawaii, Australia, Tonga, Ecuador and other parts of the Pacific since 1980. 
 
The Great Maui Whale Count was originated by Pacific Whale Foundation researchers in 1988, to involve the public in gathering data about the numbers of humpback whales that can be seen from Maui's shorelines. Pacific Whale Foundation's research and education staff serve as "site coordinators" at the dozen counting locations, and are happy to talk about their experiences with whales and share information about the latest whale discoveries.
 
"The Great Maui Whale Count takes place during the peak of whalewatching season on Maui," says Maldini.  "People are often amazed by how many humpback whales you can see from the shore when you spend time looking for them."
 
An estimated  20,000 or more humpback whales live in the North Pacific; about 60% of that population is believed to come to Hawaii each year. A large number are found off the coast of Maui, in the area bordered by the islands of Maui, Kaho'olawe, Moloka'i and Lana'i. "In other words, there are a lot of whales to be seen from shore," says Maldini.
 
The whales come to Maui to mate, give birth and care for their young, and are known for their intriguing and acrobatic behaviors, which include breaching, tail slapping and singing underwater. Part of The Great Maui Whale Count involves recording the types of whale behaviors that are observed.
 
 "The Great Maui Whale Count is a tradition we began on Maui back in 1988," says Greg Kaufman, President and founder of Pacific Whale Foundation. "We started the Great Whale Count on Oahu in 1996 in partnership with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Natonal Marine Sanctuary, and in 1998 they changed the name to 'Ocean Count' and took over running it on their own."
 
"During the Great Maui Whale Count you'll learn how to collect and record scientific data," notes Kaufman. "This is also a great opportunity to ask all those questions you have about the whales and the behaviors you see, and to learn about whale research."
 
Each volunteer is assigned to one of 12 shore-based counting stations, found along the south and west coasts of Maui, from the Ritz Carlton in Kapalua to Pu’u O Lai in Makena, plus at Ho’okipa Beach on Maui’s north shore. Training at each site begins at 8:00 a.m. and the official counting takes place from 8:30 a.m. to noon. The counting is limited to animals sighted within three miles of the shoreline to ensure more accuracy and to allow the counters to best determine the whales' pod composition and behaviors.
 
Data from The Great Maui Whale Count is compiled and evaluated by Pacific Whale Foundation's research team, and the results of the count are shared with the public. Pacific Whale Foundation's staff compare the data from each year with the count results from prior years to get a snapshot view of the whale population off Maui at the peak of the season. The data supplements results from Pacific Whale Foundation's research field studies.
 
Last year's tsunami watch delayed the Great Maui Whale Count by a week. The count was conducted on March 6, 2010, with 1,208 humpback whale sightings reported.  An average of 382 whale sightings per hour were tallied during the count, which took place at 12 counting stations along Maui’s south and western shores, and at Hookipa Beach Park on Maui’s north shore. It averaged out to 31.9 sightings per hour at each of the  stations.
 
A total of 1,010 humpback whale sightings were recorded by more than 200 volunteers, during the 2009 Great Maui Whale Count, on Saturday, February 28, 2009.
 
In 2008, there were 1,726 sightings. In 2007, counters at all of the sites tallied a total of 959 whale sightings. In 2006, there were 1,265 humpback whales counted. There were 649 humpback whale sightings recorded during the 2005 count. In 2004, rainy weather caused a disruption in the counting. In 2003, there were 815 sightings tallied. The counters in 2002 reported 673 sightings.
 
The Great Maui Whale Count is part of  Maui Whale Festival, a series of whale-related events taking place from November through mid-May. For more information about these events, please call Pacific Whale Foundation at (808) 249-8811 or visit www.mauiwhalefestival.org.