LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i volunteers at the annual Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count tallied an average of four whales sighted per 15-minute count period on Saturday.
More than 800 volunteers collected data from the shorelines of Hawai‘i, O‘ahu and Kaua‘i during the second of three annual counts. The third and final count for 2012 will take place on March 31.
Kaua‘i’s average of four sightings per 15-minute count period equals that of O‘ahu, where an average of four sightings were tallied per 15-minute count period. The Big Island reported two sightings per 15-minute count period, but was affected by inclement weather.
Maui conducts its own survey by the Pacific Whale Foundation.
Jean Souza, the Kaua‘i programs coordinator for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, said she was happy the rain held off until the final counts were in at noon.
“We had some rain early in the morning,” said Marga Gossen, the site leader at the Ahukini State Park where about a dozen people were prepared with rain jackets and umbrellas. “But it cleared up.”
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for Kaua‘i until 6 a.m. today.
Souza said 153 volunteers on Kaua‘i participated at sites from Kilauea to Mana and, according to figures from the different sites, 295 members of the public were educated about whales and other marine life.
“There was lots of vog, and the ocean conditions were pretty calm,” Souza said. “It was interesting that about half the sites saw a lot of dolphins. This coincides with O‘ahu findings, where many dolphins were seen.”
Christine Brammer, the programs specialist for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, said inclement weather conditions in some areas around the state affected visibility and the number of whale sightings.
Additionally, volunteers observed other marine life including Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, spinner dolphins and a variety of sea birds.
“This month’s count was a great success,” Brammer said.
“The Sanctuary Ocean Count project provides a unique opportunity for the public to learn about Hawai‘i’s humpback whales while participating in a monitoring effort,” Brammer said.
She said although the population of humpback whales is increasing, entanglement and vessel collisions still threaten the whales.
Shortly following the January count, Souza said there was an entangled whale observed off Kaua‘i’s shore, but following several days of tracking and before an entanglement team could respond, the whale disappeared.
As many as 12,000 humpback whales are found in Hawaiian waters every year, states a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration news release.
These findings led to Gov. Neil Abercrombie declaring February to be Humpback Whale Awareness Month.
Humpback whales in Hawaiian waters return between November and May following migrations from as far away as Alaska to breed and give birth.
Scientific studies have shown the humpback whale population in Hawai‘i is increasing at an annual rate of about 7 percent.
Hawaiian waters provide critical breeding habitat for approximately two-thirds of the North Pacific stock of humpback whales, the release states.
Over time, data from the Sanctuary Ocean Count can be used to corroborate these findings.
People interested in becoming a Sanctuary Ocean Count volunteer for the March 31 count can visit www.sanctuaryoceancount.org to register online.
Or call 1 (888) 559-4253, ext. 253.
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.