The National Marine Sanctuary holds whale count amid government shutdown and the lack of support from NOAA

Written by: 
Teva Todd


The National Marine Sanctuary’s (NMS) monitor of the Hawaiian islands humpback whale population held its annual Ocean Count on Jan. 26, despite the federal government shutdown. With help from their volunteers and national nonprofit partner, NMS will be able to continue these counts during peak season in February and March.

Each year, the NMS team and it’s volunteers conduct an annual Ocean Count with aide from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a federally-funded agency. However, due to the government shutdown this year, the NOAA will not be involved. The NMS is making sure this count happens despite the lack of extra help.

Michelle Mason, a BYU–Hawaii alumna and research assistant at One Ocean Diving, said, “I know that there have been fewer sightings of humpbacks during their migration here but it isn’t known why. Usually, we start seeing whale activity around the end of November and early December, but we’re just now getting more solid whale activity and it is still few and far between.”

According to NMS, fewer humpback whales are returning and being sighted in the Hawaiian islands each year. This year’s counts could hold information in sanctuary research regarding the observed trend.

Regarding the whale counts, Spencer Ingley, an assistant professor of biology at BYUH, said the government shutdown will likely delay the counts hosted the NMS. He believes this could have several negative consequences.

“For example, if the countdown pushes the count beyond an ideal time frame, then the data that comes back will be less useful than it might have otherwise been. Also, if the count is done at the same time each year, then a shift during one year will reduce the usefulness of that data, which could hinder our understanding of the health of whale populations and influence management decisions.

Ingley thinks holding the nation’s scientists and other workers hostage for political reasons is a serious offense. He said “I hope our leaders can get their act together quickly to put the country back to work. I think the effects of this shutdown will be wide and far reaching.”

Kristen Sarri, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation said on, “Through the support of dedicated volunteers, Ocean Count has provided more than 20 years of data that supplements scientific research and helps monitor humpback whales during their annual migration to the Hawaiian islands.”

More than 300 volunteers were expected in this year’s Ocean Count on Jan. 26. Other counts are to be held on Feb. 23 and March 30.

For more information, participants may register at Contact for more information.


Date Published: 
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Last Edited: 
Wednesday, February 13, 2019