Humpback whale sighting, 2015 Sanctuary Ocean Count wraps

Keaukaha, Hilo (Photo: Christie Ramirez)

A mother and daughter received a pleasant surprise Friday morning when a group of humpback whales joined them during their morning dive.

Christie Ramirez sent in this photo via Report It, taken at Keaukaha on the Big Island.

“My 13 year old daughter and I were going for a morning dive and we were joined by several mothers and young humpbacks. We were the only ones there so their presence was very comforting. Seems like all the moms were out with their young this beautiful morning,” she wrote.

Ramirez’s sighting comes on the heels of the 20th anniversary of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count.

More than 600 volunteers gathered on the shores of Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island for the third and final event on Saturday, March 28.

“For 20 years, the Sanctuary Ocean Count has proven to be a fun volunteer activity for residents and visitors,” said sanctuary superintendent Malia Chow. “It also provides important population and distribution information on humpback whales around the Hawaiian Islands that we use to better understand and protect this important species.”

Volunteers collected data from 57 sites, tallying humpback whale sightings and documenting the animals’ surface behavior.

A total of 160 whales were spotted between 9:30 and 9:45 a.m., the most of any time period that day.

A trend notable to the March count, organizers noted that sites that reported the highest average number of humpback whales were predominantly located within sanctuary boundaries.

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Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has proposed to expand the size and focus of the sanctuary to include multiple marine species.

Experts determined that while humpback whales remain the centerpiece of sanctuary protection, there is an increased need and urgency to take a more integrated approach to marine resource management.

The proposed rule also includes a boundary expansion that adds 235 square miles of state and federal waters around Oahu, Kauai and Niihau, bringing the total sanctuary area to 1,601 square miles.

Several public meetings are planned to address the proposed changes, and public comments are being accepted online through June 19.

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