As another year of protecting the ocean through science and advocacy and inspiring environmental stewardship comes to a close, Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) takes a look back at some of 2022’s greatest accomplishments in our Research, Education and Conservation programs.
PWF conducts applied research throughout the Pacific Ocean which directly supports conservation and management initiatives. Since 1980, PWF researchers have published over 100 peer-reviewed publications, reports, and books that have been used to advance our knowledge on cetacean ecology and inform better management of species.
Our headquarters are located on Maui, Hawai‘i with established satellite offices in East Australia and Ecuador and funded research projects in Chile and Japan.
This year, we focused on growth and building capacity for the future. We added five new staff positions, bringing us to 13 full-time employees in Hawai‘i, Australia, and Ecuador, and we are delighted to have welcomed Dr. Barbara Galletti from Chile as an affiliated researcher.
Additional goals met include the following:
- Committed 20 survey days to study whales and dolphins on the windward side of Maui. This was one of the first dedicated survey efforts for windward waters in Maui Nui and we were able to successfully survey areas spanning from north of Moloka’i to Hana, east Maui.
- Completed the second season of CATs tag deployments in collaboration with the Marine Mammal Research Program, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. During this year’s field effort, we were able to field test new deep-rated CATs tags that were developed specifically for PWF and MMRP for deep-diving dolphins.
- Expanded research in Ecuador to include common bottlenose dolphins inhabiting the central and northern coast in Ecuador. Little is known about the populations here and we have found that it is highly likely that human activity is impacting them.
- Expanded scope in Australia and completed pilot surveys to estimate the abundance of commonly encountered dolphin species in Hervey Bay using distance sampling techniques. Although Australian humpback dolphins and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins are regularly encountered in Hervey Bay, no abundance estimates or description of their distribution and habitat use has been published, making our research here even more critical.
- Concluded field work in collaboration with Martin van Aswegen and Dr. Lars Bejder (Marine Mammal Research Program, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa) and Dr. Adam Pack (University of Hawai‘i at Hilo) to collect a comprehensive suite of morphometric and health data on individual humpback whales.
- Provided drone support for an entangled whale that was freed of all gear by responders from the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (HIHWNMS) entanglement response team.
- Began collecting data for a new five-year project assessing the health and status of humpback whales in Hervey Bay, Australia. Previous studies have been conducted in the calving grounds, primarily on calves that are less than two months old, whereas calves in the Hervey Bay area are closer to two to three months old. This work will fill some gaps in understanding of humpback whale growth and development in their first year of life.
- Worked with and contributed research to our partners at NOAA, DLNR and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary to develop new vessel speed guidelines included in the Go Slow – Whales Below recommendations
- Published three peer-reviewed journal articles
- Attended national and international conferences, presenting PWF research and making an impact in policy decisions: The 24th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals and Reunião de Trabalho de Especialistas em Mamíferos Aquáticos da América do Sul e 13º Congresso da Sociedade Latino-Americana de Mamíferos Aquáticos
- Continued work on our Global Impact Plan, in which we focus our research efforts on studying five major threats to cetaceans: bycatch, vessel collisions with marine animals, marine plastic pollution, unsustainable tourism and climate change. To learn more about research efforts on these threats and more, view our 2022 Research Report and visit pacificwhale.org/research.
The PWF Education Team works to inspire environmental stewardship through education materials and programs for a variety of audiences. Many of our programs are designed for a school-aged audience, with the goal of inspiring the next generation of ocean stewards and advocates.
In 2022, we welcomed two more education specialists to our team, allowing us to expand our programs and reach. We also piloted our first ever program, Ocean Career Quest, designed for middle school students. This immersive, week-long program introduced participants to careers at PWF and PacWhale through firsthand experiences on the water. We’re looking forward to continuing this program in 2023 and continuing to expand our program offerings.
We were thrilled to be able to offer our first full year back to in-person Ocean Camp programs! During the summer session of Ocean Camp, we resumed use of our vans to broaden our field trip opportunities with community partners in natural areas throughout the island. This year, 227 campers participated in the program.
Ocean Career Quest
In 2022, we launched our new Ocean Career Quest program, which was fully funded and offered free of charge to 19 Maui middle school students. This program provides an opportunity for middle school students to “get their feet wet” in the field of marine science and to introduce the students to potential career opportunities that exist on Maui within Pacific Whale Foundation and PacWhale Eco-Adventures. Ocean Career Quest took place aboard a floating classroom (one of PacWhale Eco-Adventures vessels) on which participants learned some marine science basics through firsthand experiences, met experts and learned about their career paths, learned and practiced some new skills, and had lots of fun! After participating in the program, participants had a 223% increased interest in working in the marine field and a 55% increase in the understanding of threats to the ocean and marine life.
As we had more than 50 applicants to the program, we created a one-day, mini version of the program for applicants not selected to participate in the weeklong program. Applicants and an accompanying adult joined us for a special Molokini and Turtle Arches snorkel trip with some Ocean Career Quest program activities and onboard experts.
In 2022, PWF presented three different versions of the Keiki Whalewatch program! We continued offering our Virtual Keiki Whalewatch program, which had a total of 1339 student participants this year from five US states and three Hawaiian Islands. We resumed offering our original in-person Keiki Whalewatch program with 744 student participants from Maui schools. We also offered a new program, Keiki Whalewatch Plus One, for our Maui students and their “plus one” adult on two separate weekend afternoons. The new Keiki Whalewatch Plus One trips had a total of 99 student participants from 26 different Maui schools.
The Conservation program at PWF works to develop programs and advocates for policies that will mitigate the five major threats to whales and dolphins that our Research program has identified. We also take action to help the organization and others continue to choose sustainable, environmentally friendly products and policies. The Hawaiian concept of laulima is that many hands make lighter work. In 2022, one of our key focuses was making connections with partners, including Surfrider Maui, Maui Visitors and Conventions Bureau, Hawaii Pacific University (HPU) Center for Marine Debris Research (CMDR), and Coral Reef Alliance. Partnership building will continue to be a focus of our work in 2023 and beyond.
- Celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Adopt A Beach program on April 23, 2022, during which volunteers and PWF staff met for a picnic and cleanup at Kanahā Beach
- Installed Coastal Marine Debris Monitoring Program kit stands at Maui Brewing Company Kihei, Kohola Brewery in Lahaina and Moku Roots in Lahaina
- Hiring of Conservation Manager Susan Frett and Conservation Coordinator Nick Starosta
- Presented information about PWF and the five threats to whales and dolphins to the Destination Hawai’i group hosted by the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau and the United States Swim Schools Association, followed by beach cleanups after each presentation
- On October 1, 2022, Maui became the first county to ban the sale, distribution or use of non-mineral based sunscreens—a major win in protecting coral populations around Maui and a stance for which PWF and PacWhale Eco-Adventures has long advocated
- Conservation and Research team members submitted comments encouraging specific protections for whales and dolphins in Australia’s Great Sandy Marine Park where PWF conducts research
- Worked together with partners at NOAA, DLNR and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, developed an outreach campaign surrounding new vessel speed guidelines included in the Go Slow, Whales Below recommendations
- Worked with NOAA and Maui County Council to pass additional protections for spinner dolphins in Hawai‘ʻi
- Presented on the five threats to whales and dolphins and how local residents can take action to help protect them to the Bayer–PacWest Lunch and Learn group
- Endorsed letters to US Senate and House leadership encouraging passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, which included provisions mitigating the impacts of ships and other vessels on marine mammals. This effort was successful! Read more about what this means for marine mammals HERE
- Adopt A Beach volunteers collected 26,897 pieces of debris from beaches in Maui, the majority of which—close to 80%—was plastic
- Participated in a reef cleanup with Ocean Defenders Alliance, removing 150 pounds of fishing line, lead weights and other debris from La Perouse Bay. A total of nine divers worked for 45 minutes to clean up much of the debris, however more remains. Conservation is committed to expanding beach and ocean cleanup efforts this year.
- Took part in a community beach cleanup hosted by Surfrider Maui in Paia in December, strengthening our relationship with Maui Surfrider to hopefully benefit both organizations and grow efforts to remove marine debris from our beaches
- Government Affairs Manager Shingayi Masiyain, hired in late 2022, is currently working for the nonprofit—the first position of its kind in PWF history.
Mahalo to all our supporters for one of the best years yet! Learn how to support our Research, Education and Conservation programs to protect the ocean and inspire environmental stewardship HERE.