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Volunteers for the Ocean Count
Two volunteers watching whales breaching. (Photo: Bruce Parsil)

A Volunteer Program that COUNTS

By Liz Liang

Want to be part of an award-winning volunteer effort? Book your trip to Hawaii.

This past Saturday, armed with lawn chairs and clipboards, members of what some have called “the best volunteer program ever,” came together once again to count humpback whales as they breach, spy hop and tail slap in the waters off Hawaii’s breathtaking coastline.

2 volunteers watching a whale
Volunteers that count. (Photo: Greg Cunningham)

Hosted by Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, the Sanctuary Ocean Count happens three times a year during peak whale season. Both locals and tourists alike flock to the shores for this award-winning volunteer program, which has grown from 150 participants on Oahu to more than 2,000 people annually across three islands since it began in 1996.  

2 volunteers at sharks cove
The Huffington Post thinks so, and we agree! (Source: Huff Post Green)

“Some folks visit Hawaii and time their trip with the Ocean Count so that they can participate in it,” said Jean Souza, Hawaii programs coordinator for the sanctuary.

2 volunteers at sharks cove
Volunteers at Shark's Cove. (Photo: Jordan Ching)

For this past weekend’s count (the second of the season), nearly 900 trained volunteers took up their binoculars and notepads at 60 sites on Kauai, Hawaii and Oahu. The whales did not disappoint — nearly 300 were sighted during one of the 15-minute counting periods alone. The volunteers also recorded sightings of other marine animals, including dolphins, turtles and seabirds.

2 volunteers at sharks cove
Volunteers keeping their count. (Photo: Paul Wong)

“This is a great opportunity for people from all walks of life to see humpback whales at their most acrobatic,” said Jordan Ching, Sanctuary Ocean Count project manager. “Our volunteers get the chance to learn about the whales and Hawaii’s marine environment, and at the same time to help protect them.”

mike kanoName:   Mike Kano
Current Town:   Hanamaulu, Kauai, HI
Age:    66, retired Captain, Fire Prevention Bureau/Kauai Fire Dept.

Is this your first time doing Ocean Count?   No!
How many times have you participated?   7 years (6 years trained!)
How did you hear about it?  In 2008, was recruited by James Yamamoto to do the Whale Behavior Survey at Kapaa Lookout with my boy scout troop (Troop 133, Kapaa).
Why do you volunteer to help the sanctuary count whales?  What have you learned?    Although I saw whales when I was growing up, I was never interested cause I thought that they were just part of the ocean that surrounded Kauai/Hawaii. In fact, the only times I noticed whales were when they were breaching. Ocean Awareness Training (OAT) really opened up my eyes not only for whales, but the preservation of the entire ocean environment. As a site leader, it is a great responsibility to work with volunteers; to cultivate my own interest; and to promote awareness of these animals.  

Does this sound like your kind of vacation activity? Want to make a difference for the ocean while enjoying the ocean breeze, sunshine and beautiful seascapes? Sign up for the Sanctuary Ocean Count on March 29, or include us in your plans on your next trip to Hawaii!


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