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COVID-19 alters annual whale count

Event still goes on but with trained site leaders instead of usual volunteers

Volunteers scan the ocean for any sign of whales in this image taken in 2019 during the Pacific Whale Foundation’s Great Whale Count. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a different type of annual whale count is underway this year on Maui and across the state as trained site leaders have picked up the counting instead of volunteers. Pacific Whale Foundation photo

The Maui News

Due to COVID-19, a different type of annual whale count is underway this year on Maui and across the state as trained site leaders have picked up the counting instead of volunteers.

Saturday marked the first of three coordinated whale counts by the Pacific Whale Foundation on Maui with its “Great Whale Count” and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, which holds its “Sanctuary Ocean Count” on Kauai, Oahu and Hawaii island.

Both organizations are running modified programs without the normal participation of volunteers. Instead, each site is monitored by trained site leaders working individually or as a couple, according to a news release.

On Saturday, there were 68 trained site leaders looking out over the oceans for whales. In the past, more than several hundred volunteers showed up across the islands.

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

On Maui, Great Whale Count site leaders collected data from 12 sites during 15-minute intervals between 8:30 a.m. and 11:50 a.m. Saturday. A total of 71 whale sightings were tallied during the 10:30 to 10:45 a.m. time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count.

On the Hawaii island, Oahu, and Kauai, Ocean Count site leaders collected data from 31 sites; a total of 125 whale sightings were recorded during the 9 to 9:15 a.m. time period, the most of any time period throughout the day’s count.

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

Preliminary data detailing Sanctuary Ocean Count whale sightings by site location are available at: oceancount.org/resources/. Additional information is available on the sanctuary’s website at hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s Great Whale Count data may be found at pacificwhale.org/research/community-science/ with additional information at mauiwhalefestival.org.

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