May 3rd, 2016 (AP). HONOLULU – The number of whales that made the annual migration to Hawaiian waters this past winter appears to be at its lowest level in five years, according to officials with the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
However, Ed Lyman, resource protection specialist at the sanctuary, said in a news release that there is still more work to be done before drawing any conclusions based on the observations.
“A more robust and comprehensive survey throughout the main Hawaiian Islands is needed to determine the actual numbers of humpback whales that migrate here each season to mate and give birth, how long they stay, and what waters they use,” Lyman said. “Additionally, it is also important that we have a better understanding of humpback whale habitat use in other breeding areas and within the feeding areas for North Pacific humpback whales during the winter and spring months.”
The sanctuary uses observations from its scientists as well as whale counts conducted by volunteers and tour operators to get a picture of what whale migration numbers may look like. Whale season in Hawaii runs from November through May and peaks during February and March.
The sanctuary received fewer reports of whales in distress this past winter, an indication that fewer whales migrated to Hawaii, according to Lyman.
During the 2015-16 whale season, the sanctuary received five reports of whales entangled in gear. That figure was a drop from the previous two seasons, in which the sanctuary confirmed 13 reports of whales in distress, Hawaii News Now reported.
The sanctuary estimates as many as 10,000 humpback whales use Hawaiian waters as their primary “wintering ground.” The animals migrate to the islands to mate, give birth and raise their young.