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2019 PWF Research Accomplishments

With the support of passengers, members and donors, the year 2019 has been a busy and successful one for the Pacific Whale Foundation’s Research Department – both on a local and global scale.

All of our accomplishments during the past year are important for raising awareness on issues impacting marine mammals in the scientific and management communities, as well as in the local areas where we conduct our research.

We strive to contribute to the understanding of these populations around the world and aim to use the data-based evidence from our studies to inform and guide conservation measures.

In the coming year, we hope to build on our achievements as leaders in marine mammal research and to expand on our efforts using new technology and collaborations to better understand emerging threats to the populations we study. Here are some of the research department’s top successes of 2019:

  • Hired a new research analyst and a new conservation coordinator
  • 10 research projects managed concurrently in Hawaii, Australia and Ecuador
  • Trained 11 research interns and 20 new research volunteers
  • Continued to build collaborations with other research groups and organizations
    • Marine Mammal Research Program at UH Manoa, UH Hilo, University of Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Whale Foundation to better understand the humpback whale population health using UAV (drone) technology.
    • Submitted over 1,400 individuals to Happywhale for global matching and tracking of individual whales
    • Invited participants to a Humpback Whale Trends Working Group that, along with other scientists in Hawaii and Alaska, is working to identify factors that may be contributing to the observed decline in humpback whale sighting rates since 2015.
    • Formed connections with tour operators to expand our data collection platforms and connected with operators in Western Australia to encourage photo donations from regions outside of our immediate study area
  • Conducted successful field seasons in Hawaii, Australia, Ecuador and sponsored a blue whale project in Chile.
    • Moving forward with research projects using new technology, including UAVs, LiDAR and Laser Fin photogrammetry, which requires adaptation of protocols, data storage and analysis methods, as well as clear communication with peers in the field.
    • Thanks to our reporting network and rapid response program, this year we had 5 encounters with false killer whales and collected valuable information on their behaviors and morphometrics to aid in their management and conservation.
    • Responded to a series of pygmy killer whale standings, which allowed for a rare data collection opportunity that will help us ground-truth the information we can capture from UAVs.
  • Continue to advance our knowledge and skill set
    • Attended a ‘Distance Sampling’ course taught by the University of St. Andrews and two workshops at the WMMC conference
    • Received additional training from partners at NOAA Fisheries and ORRCA in stranding response and large whale entanglement response, so that we may continue to provide assistance with marine mammal emergencies.
  • Disseminated our research results
    • Published three articles sharing our work
      • Wild dolphins with bent dorsal fins in Hawaii
      • Ahistorical analysis of humpback whale distribution in Hervey Bay, Australia
      • Sightings of a killer whale overlapping with humpback whale breeding seasons in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.
  • Traveled around the world to attend scientific conferences in order to share our work, network with other scientists and educators, and continue our education by staying apprised of trends in the field of marine mammal science.
    • International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee meeting in Kenya
    • Marine Mammal Commission meeting in Hawaii
    • World Whale Conference in Australia
    • World Marine Mammal Conference in Spain.
  • Participated in community events in Hawaii, Australia, and Ecuador by providing informative talks on our projects and engaging with the public. We have increased our promotion of citizen science through our photo donations project and the use of our free sightings app, Whale & Dolphin Tracker.

Please consider donating during our Annual Fund Campaign. Your donation allows us to continue our vital research to learn more about marine animals. The better we understand them, the better we are able to protect them, both on Maui and around the world. Mahalo for being an ocean advocate! Donate at