Monday, 28 February 2011

1,607 whales sighted

February 28, 2011

MAALAEA - Volunteers and researchers on Maui tallied 1,607 sightings of humpback whales Saturday, a 33 percent increase from last year, the Pacific Whale Foundation reported.

Last year's total was 1,208 humpbacks. There were 12 counting stations in the Great Maui Whale Count.

Greg Kaufman, founder and president of PWF, which organized the count, said the sighting conditions were "fantastic," with calm seas and light winds.

"Because we have conducted the count systematically at the same time each year, it provides a valuable look at Hawaii's winter whale population. In general, we are seeing evidence of a growing number of whale sightings in recent years," Kaufman said in a news release.

He said the increase in sightings correlates to research that shows the humpback whale population in the North Pacific increasing at a rate of 7 percent or 8 percent each year.

An estimated 20,000 humpback whales live in the North Pacific, and about 60 percent of that population is believed to come to Hawaii each year to mate, give birth and care for their young, a release said.

The counting stations were positioned along Maui's south and western shores, in an area extending from Makena to Kapalua. There also was a station at Hookipa Beach Park on Maui's north shore.

Last year's count took place a week later than usual because of a tsunami warning on the originally scheduled day. In 2009, 1,010 whale sightings were recorded. In 2008, 1,726 were tallied on a day with ideal conditions such as Saturday's.

Of Saturday's sightings, 154 were calves, compared to 149 sighted last year.

Puu Olai in Makena recorded the most whale sightings with 311 during the counting window, which was open from 8:30 to 11:55 a.m.

The count was conducted by 100 volunteers who worked alongside Pacific Whale Foundation researchers and staff and was done along lookout posts from the shorelines.

The count is part of the Maui Whale Festival, a series of whale-related events taking place from November through mid-May.

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