Our Research Team

Our Research Team

Greg Kaufman
Chief Scientist and Founder of Pacific Whale Foundation

Greg began studying whales in the 1970s using benign research techniques.  His life’s work has focused primarily on humpback whales using photo-identification techniques, aerial and acoustical surveys.  He first visited Australia in 1979 en route to London to represent the Kingdom of Tonga as their Scientific Advisor to the International Whaling Commission.  As his plane approached the coastline of east Australia, he recalls staring out the window in awe of the expansive coastline.  It carried on for thousands of kilometers, and he soon learned why Australians call it ‘ginormous’.  It was then when he made up his mind to return and study the endangered humpbacks off Australia.  “Here,” he thought, “is where we can unlock the secrets to their migration, mating, breeding and perhaps feeding, all in one long study area.”  

Greg and his team began our research off Point Lookout, North Stradbroke Island (some 30 kilometers east of Brisbane, Queensland), in June of 1984.  It was cold, windy and the seas were rough.  They had to launch through the surf each day on one of Australia’s most famous surfing beaches. At the end of the first year, they identified fewer than 40 whales.  Now, over three decades later, Pacific Whale Foundation’s Australia research team has identified over 5,600 individual whales. Research is the backbone of knowledge for breeding humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere and Pacific Whale Foundation’s findings have been used by the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee in their ongoing comprehensive assessment of east Australia and Oceania humpback stocks.

Daniela Maldini, Ph.D.
Research Director

Daniela is a native of Italy. She has a BS in Biology from the University of Pavia, Italy an MS in Marine Sciences from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, San Jose State University in California and a PhD in Zoology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She also completed post-doctoral work at the CIEE Research Station, Bonaire, Netherland Antilles. Daniela has been working as a marine mammal ecologist since 1989 and has traveled the world in pursuit of marine mammals. Her body of work includes long-term studies of California coastal bottlenose dolphins (since 1990), and California sea otters (since 1994) and ecological studies of a variety of species of marine mammals and birds around the world. She has been the Chief Scientist of Okeanis, a California research-based non-profit, the Director of Research at Earthwatch Institute in Massachusetts facilitating work by fellow scientists in 54 countries, and a Research Associate at the Alaska Sea Life Center where she collaborated in studies of killer whales, Steller sea lions and sea otters. Daniela has been Adjunct Faculty at numerous universities around the US, where she taught credit-courses and supervised 26 students both national and international doing work on marine mammals. Daniela also worked in studies of seabirds, coral reef ecology and sea turtle biology and spent time in Africa and Costa Rica working on terrestrial ecology as well.

Her research focuses on two broad disciplines: conservation biology and behavioral ecology. Within these disciplines she has three main interests: 1) to use vertebrates, especially top predators, as important environmental indicators and approach their study keeping in mind the applicability of results to conservation action, 2) to understand the importance of sociality in the functioning of higher social vertebrates and investigate how the breakdown of complex social structures may jeopardize physiological health and ecological functioning within the species ecological niche, and 3) to contribute data that will be useful in formulating management plans for marine ecosystems.

Cristina Castro, Ph.D.
Research Director, Ecuador
Pacific Whale Foundation Ecuadorian Research Program

Dr. Cristina Castro is a young ecuadorian researcher, dedicated to scientific research on whales, dolphins and other marine life, whose knowledge has been used as a tool for the development of coastal and indigenous communities of mainland Ecuador.

Her early studies were conducted at the Central University of Ecuador, Universidad Central del Ecuador, where she graduated with a degree in biology and chemistry.  She also has an MS in environmental management with emphasis in Geographic Information Systems. Cristina continued her studies in biology to the doctorate level. She completed her dissertation entitled "Demographics of the humpback whale in Machalilla National Park" in 2002.

With over 14 years dedicated to research on marine mammals,she has earned national and international recognition as she was invited to represent the natural and cultural riches of Ecuador at dozens of meetings around the world. She was coordinator of the first Ecuador-hosted Workshop for Specialists in Aquatic Mammals attended by over 400 scientists from Latin America. She also published a book on environmental education aimed at indigenous peoples in Amazonia, children of all ages and tour guides on the Pacific coast of Ecuador.

From 2007 until 2010, Cristina has been part of the representatives of Ecuador to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), occupying different posts from head of delegation to the Scientific Committee to alternate commissioner to scientific advisor of the delegation.

In 2009 she was Director of Tourism in the Manabi province, working closely with the national government and local intervention programs to implement comprehensive training for whale-watching  and bird-watching operators.  

She is also an accomplished photographer interpreting the unexplored marine landscapes of Ecuador. Her work has  helped fostering appreciation for the beautiful landscapes of Ecuador. Her most recent and important contribution is OCEAN FOOTPRINTS,"Huellas del mar", a photographic book inviting tourists to explore through her photography, many of the wonderful landscapes of  marine Ecuador.

Since 2001, she has been the Director of the Pacific Whale Foundation - Ecuador Program,and a real asset to the organization. She has helped create a strong environmental education program aimed at nearly 1300 children in the National Park Machalilla. She has published dozens of papers, articles and scientific literature at all levels.

Robert Rankin, M.Sc.
Data Analyst

Robert is an ecologist from Muskoka, Ontario, with a particular interest in community ecology and quantitative tools.  He has been involved with a variety of coastal environmental projects in the non-profit, academic and government sectors. Previously, he served as a wildlife analyst for a binational Great Lakes wetland monitoring programme, and as a coordinator for marine-based community development projects in the Grenadines. He has an enduring passion for coastal ecosystem research, having worked with seabirds in the Canadian High-Arctic, shorebirds in Sweden and Alaska, as well as having volunteered with various marine-mammal projects. He has studied marine-biology in Sweden and the Mediterranean, earning a B.Sc. in Environmental Science from Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, and an M.Sc. in Biology from Lund University, Sweden.



Annie Macie, B.S.
Research Associate

Annie graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Vertebrate Biology from State University of New York at Stony Brook in 2007. She has spent the last three years working as a research associate with Pacific Whale Foundation’s research team collecting and analyzing migratory, behavioral, and reproductive data sets on East Australia‚s Humpback population. She has assisted with a similar Pacific Whale Foundation project out of Puerto Lopez, Ecuador, and has been fortunate enough to work closely in assisting with the rescue, rehabilitation, and release efforts of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.

Annie has served as the lead photographer for Pacific Whale Foundation’s research team from 2007 to present, honing her skills as a conservation photographer/videoographer. Her dream is to bring conservation minded imagery to individuals around the world, in hopes of raising awareness on conservation and preservation of the natural world.

Amanda Hutsel, B.S.
Research Assistant

Amanda graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from Central Methodist University in 2005.  Since joining the Pacific Whale Foundation research team in 2006, she has been responsible for maintaining and updating the humpback whale photo-identification catalog off eastern Australia and for matching all whale identification shots across historical catalogs. She has also served as part of the field staff in Eastern Australia between 2006 and 2010.   When not in Australia, Amanda is part of the field team in Hawaii either as a "Researcher on Board" or as an assistant during our field studies on odontocetes. Amanda will be leaving the research team in May to purse a graduate degree in Geographic Information Systems.

Dominque Richardson, M.Sc.
Research Assistant

Dominique graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2007. During her undergraduate career, she was fortunate enough to conduct conservation biology and animal behavior research in the field in Laikipia, Kenya on Gunther’s dik-dik (Madoqua guentheri). While living in the field, she had several close encounters with terrestrial, charismatic megafauna.

In 2010, Dominique graduated with a Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences from California State University, Los Angeles. While completing her Master’s, she conducted research on intertidal ecology in Vancouver, Canada and on the behavior of Pacific seahorses (Hippocampus ingens) in Southern California. As part of her degree she also created environmental education programs for local aquariums to encourage school children and the public to conserve ocean creatures and their environment.

Dominique spent several years working as a naturalist in Southern California introducing guests to local wildlife while helping to collect data on various cetaceans including blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus), fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), gray whales(Eschrichtius robustus), common dolphins (Delphinus delphis/Delphinus capensis), and bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). During this time she had several close encounters with aquatic, charismatic megafauna.

Dominique is currently a part of the Researcher on Board program, collecting data on “surprise encounters” with humpback whales, gathering opportunistic photographic identification data on resident odontocetes, and looking at interspecies interactions in local waters.

Itana Freire Silva
Research Assistant

Itana graduated with Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in 2009. She is passionate about marine mammals and conservation. Originally from Brazil, she developed this passion through her experience as an intern with the Aquatic Mammals Institute in her home country between 1997 and 2000. Itana was involved in the collection of behavioral data on the gray dolphin (Sotalia guianensis) and on South Atlantic Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). She also participated in the recovery and rehabilitation of cetaceans and pinnipeds, and in educational programs involving fishermen, communities and schools. These were valuable experiences that defined her career aspirations.

Since Itana moved to Hawai‘i in 2000, she worked with a variety of marine research and conservation organizations such as the Maui Ocean Center curatorial department and the DLNR-Division of Aquatic Resources as an intern, the Zoology Department at UH Mānoa Zoology as a research assistant, the Hawaii Wildlife Fund and the HIHWNMS-NOAA Water Quality monitoring program as a volunteer. She was also part of the NOAA-PIRO Marine Mammal Response Network/HPU Marine Mammals Stranding Team, participating in Hawaiian Monk seal monitoring, response to cetacean strandings and marine mammals necropsies. She also worked for The Dolphin Institute, assisting with Humpback whale and Spinner dolphin photo-identification catalog maintenance, field work and data entry and analysis and with Hawai‘i Pacific University/Cascadia Research Collective as an undergraduate research assistant, analyzing Hawaiian melon-headed whale photographs to create a photo-identification catalog for the study of population size and structure.   

Itana is currently part of the Researcher on Board program at PWF. She is also responsible for the false-killer whale photo-identification catalog.

Nicolo' Tonachella, M.Sc.

Aurora Nastasi, M.Sc.



Aurora has a BS in Natural Science with emphasis on marine ecosystems and an MS in Marine and Fresh Water Science from Sapienza University in Rome, Italy. From 2007 to 2009 she worked at ICRAM (Istituto Centrale per la Ricerca Scientifica e Tecnologica Applicata al Mare), the Italian Government body for marine research. There she worked on the acoustics  of Patagonian dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) and Commerson’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus commersonii).

In 2010, she joined FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), where she worked for the General Fishery Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) Secretariat and had the chance to contribute to protection and sustainable management of marine resources. Aurora helped organize the GFCM Workshop on Algal and Jellyfish blooms in the Mediterranean Sea held in Istanbul, Turkey, and also contributed to data on the biology, life history parameters and stock structure of six fish species commercially exploited in the Mediterranean.

Maria Cristina Libero, B.S.
Graduate Student

Maria Cristina Ramasco, of Italian origin, went to high school in Lugano, Switzerland and specialized in foreign languages. She is a Biology graduate of the Statale University in Milan. Her passion for the sea began at a young age, and after the completion of her college career, she decided to undertake a specific educational path that would allow her to broaden her experience as a Marine Biologist.

She has been an intern with Tethys Research Institute in in Greece, where she had the opportunity to discover the working environment of a field research center. There she completed an undergraduate thesis focused on comparing the analogue and the digital photo-identification methods applied to common dolphins.

She also completed an internship with The Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute (BDRI) on the island of Sardinia, Italy where she assisted in ecological and behavioral studies on wild bottlenose dolphins.

She is currently completing a specialization in Biodiversity and Biological Evolution at the University of Milan and will be conducting her field work at Pacific Whale Foundation studying spinner dolphins around the island of Lanai.

Nicolo' Roccatagliata, B.S.
Graduate Student