MA’ALAEA, Maui, Hawaii – More than 100 volunteers worked with Pacific Whale Foundation researchers to record 1,331 humpback whale sightings during the 2014 annual Great Whale Count off Maui. This year’s count had more sightings than the 2013 count, during which 1,126 whales were recorded.

“The perfect sea surface conditions provided excellent sighting conditions,” said Greg Kaufman, Executive Director of Pacific Whale Foundation and leader of a group counting whales at Pu’u Olai, the hill near Makena Beach State Park.

In contrast, last year’s count had gusty trade winds at a number of sites, which kicked up the sea and made it harder to view whales.

What is most important to Kaufman is the overall upward trend in the number of whales sighted since 1995.

“It is estimated that there are now 23,000 humpback whales in the North Pacific, with about 60 percent (approximately 12,000 to 14,000) coming to Hawaii over the entire season,” he said. “Large numbers of these whales are found off the coast of Maui, in the area bordered by the islands of Maui, Kaho’olawe, Moloka’i, and Lana’i.”

Pacific Whale Foundation is a nonprofit organization based on Maui dedicated to protecting whales and our oceans through science and advocacy.

The Great Whale Count is part of the Maui Whale Festival, a series of whale-related events taking place through March. The festival continues with Evening with the Experts, two evenings of free presentations about whales, to be held on March 13 and 14 at the Westin Maui Resort in Ka’anapali.

On Thursday, March 13, Manny Oteyza, producer of the movie Blackfish, will present a free screening of this 90-minute documentary and a presentation about creating the film. The movie, reportedly under consideration for an Oscar nomination, documents the circumstances leading to the 2010 death of Dawn Brancheau, a reknowned SeaWorld trainer who was killed by Tilikum, a 12,000-pound orca. This film provides a compelling look at the cruelty of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity, and has been instrumental in educating millions of people worldwide about the dark side of using these majestic marine mammals for human entertainment.

On Friday, March 14, the focus will be on “Heroes in Whale Research,” spotlighting female scientists as role models. Using engaging photos and video, Elsa Cabrera will present her work studying and protecting blue whales in Chile. Dr. Cristina Castro will discuss her efforts to study and protect humpback whales and other marine mammals off the coast of Ecuador. Dr. Emmanuelle Martinez will describe Pacific Whale Foundation’s work with humpback whales off Maui.

Admission is free; reservations for seating are strongly recommended.

Better yet, go see the whales for yourselves, live and in person right outside your lanai!