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Public invited to assist with Maui whale count

MA’ALAEA (MAUI), HI – If you enjoy looking out toward sea and spotting blows, breaches and other whale activity, Pacific Whale Foundation invites you to become a volunteer whale counter during the up

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MA’ALAEA (MAUI), HI – If you enjoy looking out toward sea and spotting blows, breaches and other whale activity, Pacific Whale Foundation invites you to become a volunteer whale counter during the upcoming Great Whale Count, to be held on Maui on Saturday, February 25 from 8 am to noon.

An annual event and the first “whale count” of its kind, the Great Whale Count has been conducted by Pacific Whale Foundation along Maui’s shorelines for twenty years. More than 100 people volunteer to help conduct the count each year, with many participants coming from the Mainland or neighbor islands. The Great Whale Count gathers data in a systematic way about whales that can be seen within three miles of ten established shoreline observation points stretching from Kapalua to Makena, with an additional site located at Ho’okipa.

No special skills are needed to volunteer. Pacific Whale Foundation’s research team will provide the training and data recording forms. Counters are asked to bring a pair of binoculars, a lawn chair, hat, sunglasses and drinking water.

“Working under our Chief Scientist, Dr. Daniela Maldini, Pacific Whale Foundation’s research team compiled the data from past Great Whale Counts to submit the results for publication to a peer-reviewed scientific journal,” comments Greg Kaufman, President and Founder of Pacific Whale Foundation. “We are excited to continue the count with some new enhancements to add to this very useful data set about whale sightings from Maui’s shorelines.”

“The Great Whale Count provides a snapshot look at the number of whales off the coast of Maui at the peak time when the whales are present,” notes Kaufman. “Because we have conducted this count in a systematic way for two decades, we are able to compare findings from one year to another, and to correlate the findings with other studies of whale density and population off Maui.”

The counters also record the whale behaviors that are observed, numbers of pods sighted, whether there are calves in the pod, and the direction and swimming speed of the pods.

Counters are assembled from 8:00 am to 11:30, with the actual counting taking place from 8:30 am to 11:30 am. During that time, they learn about whale research methods, whale biology and recent scientific findings about whales. “Our volunteers also discover the surprising number of whales that can be seen from shore, if you simply spend the time looking,” says Kaufman.

To volunteer for the Great Maui Whale Count, please contact Michelle Vienkgone at [email protected] Please include your name, daytime or cell phone number, the number of people in your group, their ages, and where you will be staying on Maui, so that the research team can assign you to the most convenient counting location. Pacific Whale Foundation’s research team will contact you with information about your assignment.

“Pacific Whale Foundation organized the first whale count in Hawai’i in 1991,” comments Kaufman. “When the Sanctuary was being established, they asked us to share our methodology and data recording protocol with them, so they could establish Ocean Counts on Oahu, Kauai, Hawaii Island and Kahoolawe. Pacific Whale Foundation continues to run the Great Whale Count on Maui.”

The data from the 2012 Great Whale Count supplements data gathered during Pacific Whale Foundation’s other Hawaii whale research studies, including a theodolite station at Papawai Point Lookout from February 1 to April 15 to record vessel-whale interactions. This effort will tie into a larger research project conducted by Pacific Whale Foundation to analyze and mitigate the potential for vessel-whale collisions along Maui’s coastline.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s naturalists and captains also gather data about cetaceans encountered during all of Pacific Whale Foundation’s whalewatches and ocean ecotours. The data is uploaded with the Whale and Dolphin Tracker software developed by Pacific Whale Foundation in 2010, and is transmitted to the foundation’s research labs and also displayed in real time on Pacific Whale Foundation’s website at www.pacificwhale.org.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s research team will also be working from a small boat at sea starting in mid-February to gather photoidentification and distribution data on odontocetes (toothed whales and dolphins) off the coasts of Maui and Lana’i. The study will also include research on interactions and associations between humpback whales and odontocetes.

Pacific Whale Foundation also conducts studies of humpback whales in Ecuador, Tonga and along the east coast of Australia, and studies of blue whales off the coast of Chile.

The Great Whale Count is coordinated by Pacific Whale Foundation and is part of the Maui Whale Festival.

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