If you have a keen eye for spotting whales from shore, Pacific Whale Foundation invites you to become a volunteer whale counter during the upcoming Great Whale Count on Maui on Saturday, Feb. 22, from 7:30 a.m. to noon.
An annual event, the Great Whale Count has been conducted by Pacific Whale Foundation along Maui's shorelines for more than 20 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 11 established shoreline observation points stretching from Kapalua to Makena, with an additional site located at Ho'okipa. In all, there are 12 counting locations.
Great Whale Count participants keep a sharp eye out from the Kīhei Surfside.
Pacific Whale Foundation's research team will provide the training for the volunteers and data recording forms. Counters are asked to bring a pair of binoculars, a lawn chair, hat, sunglasses and drinking water.
"The Great Whale Count data offer a snapshot look at the number of whales off the coast of Maui at the peak time when the whales are present," said Stephanie Currie, researcher at Pacific Whale Foundation and 2014 Great Whale Count coordinator. "This systematic count lets us 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 whale behaviors, numbers of pods sighted, the presence of calves in the pod and the direction of travel of the pods.
Counters will be assembled from 7:30 a.m. to noon, with the actual counting taking place from 8 to 11:50 a.m. During that time, volunteers 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 devote your attention to looking for them," said Currie.
There is a new registration process: If you are interested in volunteering, visit Pacific Whale Foundation's volunteer Website: tinyurl.com/PWFvolunteer. Click on "SIGN UP!" and create your own username and password. Do not choose any events yet. You will be emailed a confirmation that your username and password have been accepted, and then you can log back in to select the events and shifts that you want.
Positions are limited and fill up quickly. Due to the scientific nature of this event, the number of volunteers Pacific Whale Foundation can accept at each site is limited and is kept constant from year to year.
Pacific Whale Foundation organized the first whale count in Hawai'i in 1991. Pacific Whale Foundation also helped the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary launch their first whale count on O'ahu. The sanctuary conducts counts on O'ahu, Kaua'i, Hawaii Island and Kaho'olawe. Pacific Whale Foundation continues to run the Great Whale Count on Maui.
The Great Maui Whale Count is coordinated by Pacific Whale Foundation and is part of the Maui Whale Festival, a two-month long series of whale-related events held on Maui between February and March.
To learn more about the Maui Whale Festival, visit www.mauiwhalefestival.org and see pages 3 and 9 through 12 in this issue of the Maui Weekly.