Kauai News

997 humpback whales counted in Hawaiian Islands by volunteers on Saturday

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A volunteer looks for whales at Mokuleia Beach Park on O’ahu on Feb. 25, 2023. Photo: Jennifer Strahl/NOAA

In the Hawaiian Islands, 345 volunteers at 42 sites counted humpback whales during the second of three Sanctuary Ocean Counts and Great Whale Counts for 2023.

A total of 997 humpback whales were spotted from the Big Island, Kaua’i, Maui and O’ahu during specific time periods. However, this number may represent duplicate sightings of the same whale by different observers or at different time periods or different locations throughout the day.

Maui had the most with 596, followed by O’ahu with 232, the Big Island with 105 and 64 for Kaua’i.

Volunteers from Kaua‘i, O‘ahu and the Big Island participated in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count while Maui volunteers were involved with the Great Whale Count by the Pacific Whale Foundation.

Volunteers count humpback whales at Spitting Caves on O’ahu on Feb. 25, 2023. Photo: Sherine Boomla/NOAA

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

Volunteers collected data on Feb. 25. The busiest time period was between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m. when 147 whales were observed.

A group of volunteers count whales on Maui on Feb. 25, 2023. Photo: Therese Olson

Data collected during these counts combined with other research efforts can help reveal trends in humpback whale occurrence within and amongst whale seasons.

Across the main Hawaiian Islands, weather conditions varied with sunny blue skies or cloudy conditions. The majority of sites were impacted by strong winds and moderate swells that made it difficult for observing whales from the shoreline.


A variety of other species also were spotted during the count including ʻilioholoikauaua (Hawaiian monk seal), honu (green sea turtles), naiʻa (spinner dolphins) and multiple seabird species such as ʻiwa (great frigatebird), mōlī (Laysan albatross), kōlea (Pacific golden plover), manu o Kū (white tern), ʻĀ (red-footed booby) and koaʻe ula (red-tailed tropicbird). 

Ocean Count promotes public awareness about humpback whales, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and shore-based whale watching opportunities.

Volunteers tally humpback whale sightings and document the animals’ surface behavior during the survey, which provides a snapshot of humpback whales’ activity from the shorelines of  Kaua‘i, Oʻahu and the Big Island. Ocean Count is supported by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

The Great Whale Count by Pacific Whale Foundation had site leaders count whales from shore as part of a long-term survey of humpback whales in Hawai’i, with 12 survey sites along the shoreline of Maui. This event provides a snapshot of trends in relative abundance of whales and is one of the world’s longest-running community science projects.


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

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

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

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