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Humpback Whale Counts For 2023 Season Completed

humpback whale breaching

The winter season of humpback whales in Hawaii is from November to April.  You may see a whale when sailing out to Kealakekua Bay for a snorkel tourBig Island Video News reports on this season’s whale count.

HAWAIʻI – 345 volunteers gathered data during this year’s Sanctuary Ocean Count and Great Whale Count.

(BIVN) – The volunteer humpback whales counts in Hawaiʻi have wrapped up for the season. The NOAA Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary provided this news release summarizing the events:

Sanctuary Ocean Count and Great Whale Count volunteers observe humpback whales from Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i, and Maui.

345 volunteers gathered data from the shores of Kaua‘i, O‘ahu and Hawai‘i islands during the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count and from Maui during the Great Whale Count by Pacific Whale Foundation, the second of three coordinated whale counts between the two organizations in 2023. This is the first year since March 2020 that both programs will be resuming normal operations.

This is the fifth year that both counts are coordinated on the same days, ensuring the data from all the main Hawaiian Islands are collected simultaneously.

Volunteers collected data from 42 sites across all the main Hawaiian Islands on February 25. A total of 147 whales were observed during the 8:30-8:45 am time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count.

On the islands of Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, and Hawai‘i, Ocean Count volunteers collected data from 30 sites; a total of 77 whales were observed during the 8:30-8:45 am time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count.

On Maui, Great Whale Count volunteers collected data from 12 sites during 15-minute intervals between 8:30 am and 11:50 am. A total of 105 whales were observed during the 11:30-11:45 am time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count.

On Kaua‘i, the total number of whales observed during the day’s count was 64, on O‘ahu, the total was 232, and Hawai‘i 105. The total number for the Great Whale Count on Maui was 596, for a grand total of 997 throughout the state. This number may represent duplicate sightings of the same whale by different observers or at different time periods or different locations throughout the day.

Data collected during the Sanctuary Ocean Count and Great Whale Count combined with other research efforts can help reveal trends in humpback whale occurrence within and amongst whale seasons.

Across the main Hawaiian Islands, weather conditions varied with sunny blue skies or cloudy conditions. The majority of sites were impacted by strong winds and moderate swells that made it difficult for observing whales from the shoreline. A variety of other species were also spotted during the count including ʻilioholoikauaua (Hawaiian monk seal), honu (green sea turtles), naiʻa (spinner dolphins) and multiple seabird species such as ʻiwa (great frigatebird), mōlī (Laysan albatross), kōlea (Pacific golden plover), manu o Kū (white tern), ʻĀ (red-footed booby), koaʻe ula (red-tailed tropicbird) and more.

Ocean Count promotes public awareness about humpback whales, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, and shore-based whale watching opportunities. Volunteers tally humpback whale sightings and document the animals’ surface behavior during the survey, which provides a snapshot of humpback whales’ activity from the shorelines of Kaua‘i, Oʻahu, and Hawai‘i islands. Ocean Count is supported by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

The Great Whale Count by Pacific Whale Foundation had site leaders count whales from shore as part of a long-term survey of humpback whales in Hawai’i, with 12 survey sites along the shoreline of Maui. This event provides a snapshot of trends in relative abundance of whales and is one of the world’s longest-running community science projects.

Both counts take place three times during peak whale season annually on the last Saturday in January, February, and March.

Preliminary data detailing Sanctuary Ocean Count whale sightings by site location are available at: Additional information is available on the sanctuary’s website at

Pacific Whale Foundation’s Great Whale Count data may be found at

Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, administered by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the State of Hawai‘i Division of Aquatic Resources, protects humpback whales and their habitat in Hawaiian waters where they migrate each winter to mate, calve, and nurse their young.

With a mission to protect the ocean through science and advocacy, and to inspire environmental stewardship, Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) conducts Research, Education and Conservation programs for the communities in which it serves. Founded by Greg Kaufman in 1980 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the world’s whales from extinction, PWF now operates a social enterprise that offers fee-based programs and services through PacWhale Eco-Adventures to help fund its nonprofit work. Combined with memberships, donations, charitable grants and a remarkable group of dedicated volunteers, PWF now reaches more than 400,000 individuals each year through its Maui and Australia offices and research projects in Ecuador and Chile.

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, established in 2000, is the official non-profit partner of the National Marine Sanctuary System. The Foundation directly supports national marine sanctuaries by protecting species, conserving ecosystems and preserving America’s maritime heritage through on-the-water conservation projects, public education and outreach programs and scientific research and exploration.


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