Whale Tails: View the humpback whale return with MWR, NOAA

| January 21, 2016 | 0 Comments

Visitors can see Makapuu Beach and possibly spot whales in the open sea at Makapuu Lookout. Signs describing the annual humpback whale migration were installed at the lookout by the State of Hawaii and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. (Photo by Christine Cabalo)

Christine Cabalo
Staff Writer
What is as big as a school bus and knows how to sing?

Thousands of 50-foot humpback whales will be visiting Hawaii and communicating through whale song to each other during the winter breeding season, according to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary website.

Anyone interested in finding out more about these giants of the sea can expect more frequent sightings of them as their breeding season peaks from now through March.

The Schofield Barracks Outdoor Recreation Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration can help people spot the whales from the shore.

Viewing options
The center is offering several trips for whale watching; some feature a hike and others are volunteer opportunities to help NOAA. The excursions include transportation and a guide from the center.

“Sometimes, people won’t go unless they go with someone else,” said Sharon Sanchez, a recreation specialist with the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. “The Outdoor Recreation Center trips provide a bond and friendship. There’s a sense of security going with someone who knows what they are doing.”

Sanchez said the center has a special hike and whale watching session for home-schooled children, this month, while anyone with a military ID or non-appropriated funds-sponsored guests can sign up for the Feb. 6 hike.

“We’re going to two different trails,” she said. “For the home-school students, we’re going on the north, flat trail hiking out to Kaena Point. It’s a little easier hike. For the Feb. 6 hike, we’re going to Kaena Point from the west side. It’s an old, well-used trail right near the water.”

Sanchez said the center also helps find volunteers for NOAA’s Sanctuary Ocean Count, conducted during the high traffic times of the migration. Oahu volunteers will spend several hours at one of 26 sites on the island to observe whale behavior, noting how many they see and what they do. The information supports NOAA’s research efforts and tracks the size of the whale population.

“Our Sanctuary Ocean Count project is highly dependent on volunteer participation,” said Cindy Among-Serrao, Sanctuary Ocean Count project coordinator. “This project is a huge success thanks to the dedication of all our volunteers.”

A humpback whale breaches, or surfaces, above the water. Researchers estimate approximately 10,000 humpback whales will migrate to Hawaii for the winter, with the peak of them appearing from now through March. (Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic Atmospheric) Administration A humpback whale breaches, or surfaces above the water. Researchers estimate approximately 10,000 humpback whales will migrate to Hawaii for the winter, with the peak of them appearing from now through March.

A humpback whale breaches, or surfaces, above the water. Researchers estimate approximately 10,000 humpback whales will migrate to Hawaii for the winter, with the peak of them appearing from now through March. (Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic Atmospheric)

Whale counts
Although volunteers can sign up directly at NOAA’s website, the center is offering rides to an observation site. The count is also conducted at several sites on the Big Island and Kauai. There are also resources to learn more at the sanctuary’s visitor center in Maui.

“Ocean Count is only one of the sanctuary’s many volunteer programs,” said Bo Petty, Maui volunteer coordinator for the sanctuary. “On Maui, we have a terrific group of volunteers that enjoy taking action year-round to protect Hawaii’s marine environment. Visitor Center docents share information about whales with drop-in guests, while outreach volunteers do the same at boardwalks, beaches and special events.

“Some give whale talks, assist with educational sessions for schools and seniors, support citizen science or help us administratively,” she added. “It is a great way to stay involved with the community and meet other like-minded people of many ages.”

Sanchez said the Outdoor Recreation Center has supported the whale count for the last four years, and those who volunteer love going through the experience.
“Even when you’ve seen it a few times, it’s still amazing,” she said. “You’re in awe of this creature you don’t usually see.”

Catch a Glimpse
The Schofield Barracks Outdoor Recreation Center offers two upcoming hikes and whale watching outings at Kaena Point.
•Jan. 27, Home-School Hike and Whale Watch.
•Feb. 6, Whale Watch, military ID and NAF-sponsored guests, $20.
Sign up by calling the center at 655-0143 or visit Bldg. 2110 at 435 Ulrich Way.

The center is also offering transportation to people who wish to volunteer for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s upcoming Sanctuary Ocean Count.
•Jan. 30, NOAA Whale Count, $10.
•Feb. 27, NOAA Whale Count, $10.
People can contact the center and sign up to volunteer at NOAA’s registration website: www.sanctuaryoceancount.org/.
Also, visit the Outdoor Recreation Center at www.himwr.com/recreation-and-leisure/outdoor-recreation-center.

Hikers look through stationary binoculars for a closeup view of humpback whales from Makapuu Point Lighthouse trail. (Photo by Christine Cabalo)

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Category: Community, Community Relations, Sustainability

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