SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - The peak season for whale watching is just around the corner, and the Outdoor Recreation Center, or ODR, is recruiting volunteers to help monitor the latest migration of humpback whales to coastal waters around the 50th state.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count is scheduled Saturday, Jan. 30, from 8 a.m.-12:15 p.m., at Puaena Point Beach, Haleiwa. Members of the Army community are once again being invited to take part in the annual adventure.

Sharon Nakai, an ODR recreation specialist, described the event as a fun outing for the general populace.

ODR works with site leaders from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, Honolulu division, in tracking the number of humpback adults and calves sighted from the North Shore beach, she explained.

"It's an opportunity for us to team up with volunteers from NOAA and conduct what is essentially a census," Nakai said.

She added that whale watchers will also be asked to observe and document the animal's visible behaviors, including fluke up dives, pec and tail slaps, peduncle throws, breaches and blows.

The activity is held several times each year, with additional dates scheduled for the last Saturdays in February and March.

Still, Nakai noted, January is probably the best time for whale admirers to catch the large creatures as they migrate from the polar region to tropical waters.

"As we get into March," Nakai explained, "they're often moving away. Last year, for example, we didn't see any whales in March, and all we had was a bunch of cold and windy weather."

Participants are asked to bring hats, visors, sunscreen, lawn chairs and something to eat.

"We'll be able to provide them with binoculars, but they're also more than welcome to bring their own gear," Nakai said.

"They should also throw in their own lunch or snack, and a cooler for their drinks," she added. "We'll provide them with ice from our facility."

The event costs $10 per person.

To sign up for the activity or for more information, contact the Outdoor Recreation Center at 808-655-0143.

Migration Patterns of Whales in Hawaii
Each year, humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawaii, western Mexico and Southern Japan, to mate, calve and nurse. On average, 10,000 of these creatures travel to Hawaii each winter, crossing approximately 3,000 miles in less than two months' time.

Marine experts believe that at one time in the earth's history, the humpback whale population size was between 750,000 and 2 million. Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials estimate the population to be somewhere around 40,000.

Due to their dwindling numbers, humpback whales are on the endangered species list and protected by federal law. As a result, these large creatures cannot be approached, in Hawaii, within 100 yards by sea and 1,000 feet by air.