More than 950 volunteers gathered data from the shores of Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii Island on Saturday as part of NOAA's Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count. The weather conditions for viewing humpback whales were excellent on Saturday.
A total of two whales were sighted every 15 minutes on Oahu, three on Hawaii island and eight on Kauai, according to preliminary data. Volunteers collected data from 61 sites statewide (except on Maui, where the Pacific Whale Foundation conducts an independent whale count).
On Oahu, most sightings seemed to occur at Kualoa Ranch, Pyramid Rock, Hanauma Bay and Halona Blowhole.
Scientific studies have shown the humpback whale population in Hawaii is increasing at an annual rate of about seven percent.
Up to 12,000 humpback whales are found in Hawaiian waters every year. Between November and May, the whales return to their birthplace after migrating as far as Alaska. They return to Hawaiian waters to mate, calve and nurse their young.
A few even surprised us by paying a visit to Honolulu Harbor at the start of the year.
Boaters and other ocean users are asked to remain vigilant during these months. The endangered whales are protected by both federal and state laws. The sanctuary is jointly managed by NOAA and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Two more Sanctuary Ocean Counts are scheduled to take place from 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25 and Saturday, March 31. If you're interested in becoming a Sanctuary Ocean Count volunteer, visit sanctuaryoceancount.org or call 1-888-55-WHALE ext. 253.