Budget cuts threaten whale tallies
A popular program that sends more than a thousand volunteers out to count whales and another that sends help to whales entangled in deadly fishing lines are in danger of getting cut back as the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary contends with another budget crunch.
Last year, the sanctuary's budget was slashed by 17 percent, and the budget lost an additional 10 percent this year, adding up to about $500,000 less than what the sanctuary had to spend in 2005, said Naomi McIntosh, the sanctuary's superintendent.
"Ten percent from last year doesn't sound like a lot, but it was just with the addition of the year before ... it starts to cut a little bit deeper and a little bit deeper," she said.
So far this year, officials have fielded 40 calls regarding possible whale entanglements. Four of the endangered whales have been freed from gear and marine debris that cut dangerously into the animals' flesh.
But with less money, it is uncertain whether there will be funds to pay for whale rescuers to travel between islands, for lost equipment or for boat repairs, McIntosh said.
The whale counts attract about 1,500 volunteers a year from around the world who tally sightings of the whales as they swim and sometimes leap in Hawaii waters. Up to as many as 10,000 whales visit the islands each winter to breed, calve and nurse.
The 11-year-old volunteer program, however, could be put on hiatus because it is run with significant help from seasonal staff that the sanctuary might no longer be able to afford.
"None of us have accepted the fact that we may not be able to do this next year. And of course we haven't given up on trying to find ways to fund it," McIntosh said.