MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Volunteers and researchers tallied 1,607 sightings of humpback whales Feb. 26 from their lookout posts along Maui's shorelines during the Great Maui Whale Count.
The annual event is held by Pacific Whale Foundation with counting taking place between 8:30 a.m. and 11:55 a.m.
"Sighting conditions today were fantastic, the best I recall in the last decade," said Greg Kaufman, founder and president of Pacific Whale Foundation, and the site leader for the counting station located at the top of Pu'u Olai, the cinder cone located at Makena Beach State Park. "The seas were calm, the winds were light...it was perfect."
Volunteers Reed and Shelly Chin, who are visiting Maui from Las Vegas, were impressed with the number of whales they sighted today from the Pu'u Olai counting station. "We have watched whales in four different areas along the West Coast from boats," said Reed. "We have never seen as many whales as we did today during the Great Whale Count. '
"The Great Maui Whale Count represents a long term snapshot view of whales that can be sighted nearshore during a morning at the peak of whale season," says Kaufman. "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."
"This correlates to research that shows the humpback whale population in the North Pacific increasing at a rate of 7-8 percent each year," says Kaufman. "An estimated 20,000 humpback whales live in the North Pacific; about 60 percent of that population is believed to come to Hawaii each year. Large numbers of these whales are found off the coast of Maui, in the area bordered by the islands of Maui, Kaho'olawe, Moloka'i and Lana'i."
The whales come to Maui to mate, give birth and care for their young, and are known for their intriguing and acrobatic behaviors, which include breaching, tail slapping and singing underwater.
The count was conducted by 100 volunteers who worked alongside Pacific Whale Foundation researchers and staff.
Last year's counters recorded 1,208 sightings.
Of this year's 1,607 sightings, 154 were calves
This year's tallies showed there were 780 pods or groups of whales, with an average of 260 pods or groups sighted per hour, or approximately 21.7 pods or groups per hour at each of the counting stations. There were about 2.1 whales per pod.
The Great Whale Count is part of the Maui Whale Festival, a series of whale-related events taking place from November through Mid-May. The festival continues with a free talk on Thursday, March 17 by Pacific Whale Foundation researchers Amanda Hutsel and Annie Macie, titled "On the Trail of the Whales in Australia."