Counting Whales

A mother humpback whale escorts her calf.

Photo: HIHWNMS/NOAA Fisheries permit # 782-1719

Volunteers watch for whales at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the Kona Coast.

Photo: Mike Gregg

Gabriele Finn thought she understood a lot about humpback whales – until she volunteered to track their behavior every winter.

“I used to think I knew everything about whales,” says Finn, a resource teacher. “But every year that I’ve volunteered, I’ve learned more and more.”

That’s one benefit of signing up with the annual Sanctuary Ocean Count sponsored by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. This year, during one day each in January, February and March, volunteers on Oahu, Hawaii Island and Kauai count humpback whales and note behaviors such as pectoral slaps, spouting and breaches.

“The data collected, though, isn’t as important as the amount of awareness we spread,” says Jordan Ching, the project manager of this year’s count.

The count started in 1996. Today, more than 2,000 volunteers turn up for each count day at 63 sites.

Finn, who has served as a site leader for 15 years, still gets excited about seeing humpback whales off Lanikai. One year, she and a crowd of about 30 people witnessed a whale off Popoia (Flat Island) breach 17 times.

“It’s thrilling,” she says.

2014 Count

  • 8 a.m. to noon on Feb. 22 and March 29
  • 26 sites on Oahu, 22 on Hawaii Island, 15 on Kauai
  • Register at
  • Oahu/Hawaii Island: (808) 268-3087
  • Kauai: (808) 246-2860


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Hawaii Business,February