Hawaii News

855 humpback whale sightings observed throughout state on final count day of 2024 Sanctuary Ocean Count, Great Whale Count

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More than 400 volunteer citizen scientists on March 30 counted humpback whale sightings and gathered other data from the shores of the Big Island, Kaua‘i, Maui, Lānaʻi, O‘ahu and Molokaʻi during the final count day for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count and Great Whale Count by the Pacific Whale Foundation.

A humpback whale breaches March 30 in waters off Oʻahu. (Photo by Paul Hasley)

It was the last of three coordinated whale counts between the two organizations in 2024. This is the sixth year both counts have been coordinated on the same days.

A total of 143 whales were observed from the 8:30-8:45 a.m. time period, the most of any time throughout the day’s count, and data collected from 46 sites throughout the islands.

On the Big Island, Kaua‘i, O‘ahu and Molokaʻi, Ocean Count volunteers at 34 sites observed a total of 76 whales during the same time period. On Maui and Lānaʻi, Great Whale Count volunteers counted whale sightings at 12 sites. They observed a total of 72 whales from 11:30-11:45 a.m., the most of any time period throughout the day’s count.

The total number of whales observed during the day’s count from Kaua‘i was 74, with a total of 282 sightings counted on O‘ahu, 28 from Molokaʻi and 84 from Big Island shores. The total number for the Great Whale Count on Maui was 367 and 20 on Lānaʻi.


That’s a grand total of 855 sightings from throughout the state.

That number could represent duplicate sightings of the same whale by different observers or during different time periods or at different locations throughout the day.

Volunteers watch for humpback whales March 30 on Kauaʻi. (Photo by Ron Mabry)

Across the main Hawaiian Islands, weather conditions varied by island with either mostly sunny or cloudy conditions. Several sites did experience rain, small to medium swells and windy conditions which were not ideal for observing koholā. A few sites on Kauaʻi had to cancel or end the count early due to poor visibility and weather conditions.

A variety of other species were also spotted during the count including:

  • Honu (green sea turtles).
  • ʻIlioholoikauaua (Hawaiian monk seals).
  • Naiʻa (spinner dolphins).
  • Multiple bird species such as ʻiwa (great frigatebird), mōlī (Laysan albatross), ʻuaʻu kani (wedge-tailed shearwater), manu-o-kū (white tern), ʻā (brown booby) and more.

Data collected during the Sanctuary Ocean Count and Great Whale Count combined with other research efforts can help reveal trends in humpback whale occurrence within and amongst whale seasons.

Ocean Count promotes public awareness about humpback whales, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and shore-based whale watching opportunities. Site leaders tally humpback whale sightings and document the animals’ surface behavior during the survey, which provides a snapshot of humpback activity from the shorelines of Kaua‘i, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi and the Big Island.

The Great Whale Count 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 annually on the last Saturdays of January, February and March during peak humpback whale season in Hawaiʻi waters.


Preliminary data detailing Sanctuary Ocean Count whale sightings by site location are available online. Additional information is available on the sanctuary’s website.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s Great Whale Count data also can be found online, with additional information here.

A volunteer watches for humpback whales March 30 at the Keauhou scenic lookout on the Big Island. (Photo by Fern Gavelek)

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