Volunteers needed for annual humpback whale count

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News,Science and Technology

KAULUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — Hundreds of volunteers are needed in Hawaii to participate in a yearly census to count and record the behaviors of humpback whales.

As many as 12,000 of humpback whales are estimated to come to Hawaii annually, traveling a distance of about 2,500 to 3,000 miles from their summer feeding areas near Alaska, according to Monday's West Hawaii Today (http://is.gd/iyHKQS ).

The volunteers will spend three Saturdays looking for whales as part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary's Ocean Count. The count is a yearly shore-based census that provides snapshot data on whale population and distribution throughout Hawaii.

It will be held this year on Jan. 26, Feb. 23 and March 30.

The census can provide insight into how humpbacks use the inshore waters on a typical peak season day, said Christine Brammer, Ocean Count project manager.

The goal of the Ocean Count, which was launched in 1996, is to record the number of humpback whales sighted in a four-hour period from various shore sites statewide, including Hookena Beach Park, Honaunau Lookout, Keahole Point, Keauhou Scenic Lookout and Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site.

Brammer said this data provides a better understanding of population density and helps the sanctuary distinguish trends.

In 1993, it was estimated 6,000 whales existed in the North Pacific, of which 4,000 came to Hawaii. Scientific studies have shown the population in Hawaii is increasing at an annual rate of about 7 percent.

The Ocean Count does not claim to provide scientifically accurate results. But Brammer said it does provide an approximation of humpback whale numbers and distribution patterns over the years. It also serves as a tool to supplement scientific information and other research activities.

She said the count helped show that humpback whales are utilizing other parts of the ocean.

When the population was lower, whales were commonly sighted in the waters off Maui and North Kona. Today, the whales have expanded beyond those areas, including in Hilo Bay, where no whales were sighted for over a decade, she said.

To volunteer or for more information, call 1-888-55-WHALE ext. 253. Also, visit http://hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov/involved/ocvolunteer.html.

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Information from: West Hawaii Today, http://www.westhawaiitoday.com

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