Our Conservation program collaborates with local and international organizations to address environmental threats in ways that can be inclusive of and accessible to the community. Aligned with our research and education priorities, efforts promote a solution-based approach to critical issues, such as endangered species awareness, collecting and monitoring marine debris, keeping our oceans clean and safe, reducing our carbon footprint and more. Recent initiatives include RETHINK, The Last Straw, Be Whale Aware & Dolphin Wise, Volunteers on Vacation and the Coastal Marine Debris Monitoring Program.
Pacific Whale Foundation believes that whales and dolphins are highly intelligent marine mammals that should not be kept in captivity for the purpose of entertainment. Plans were introduced to build a dolphin research and exhibition facility in North Kihei, and we led the campaign opposing this project. In 2002, Maui County passed a unanimous county-wide ban on the display of captive cetaceans. Pacific Whale Foundation is proud to have been a part of this effort, and now uses Maui’s example to help end captivity around the world.
As long as there are cetaceans in captivity, we will continue to advocate against this practice. In 2017, our Evening with the Experts event featured a presentation and discussion on the “Free Lolita” campaign, as well as an interactive screening with the producer of Blackfish. This harrowing documentary takes a compelling look at the cruelty of keeping animals in captivity and raises public awareness in support of keeping whales and dolphins living wild and free.
Congratulations to Archipelagos – Institute of Marine Conservation for winning the “Best Heroic Acts of Environmental Stewardship” award at our 4th annual World Whale Film Festival, February 2020 for their documentary film on the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary: Lipsi Island. Their work to rehabilitate and provide quality of life to formerly captive cetaceans gives hope to the thousands that currently remain in captivity and Pacific Whale Foundation supports this project whole-heartedly.
Pacific Whale Foundation testified in support of banning the distribution of plastic bags on Maui and in 2011, the County Council passed a law prohibiting retailers from providing plastic bags to customers. In 2017, we partnered with Plastic Oceans Foundation to launch the Maui premiere of their film and help educate the public about the global epidemic caused by plastic use and production. As part of this initiative, we also partnered with Plastic Oceans Foundation, County of Maui Environmental Protection & Sustainability Division and Atherton Family Foundation to create our Plastic Pollution Solutions program, helping teachers shape Maui Nui students into future stewards of the ocean. Find out more about this and other educational PWF programs on our Education page.
Pacific Whale Foundation played an active role in stopping the high-speed, inter-island Hawaii Superferry from operating in a critical humpback whale mating and calving area. We joined with other Maui environmental groups in calling for the State of Hawaii to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before the Superferry service was allowed to begin. An EIS would identify issues related to marine life, along with additional concerns such as transport of invasive species and traffic congestion. In 2007, the state legislature passed a law allowing the Superferry to offer service between Honolulu, Oahu and Kahului, Maui while the EIS was being conducted. In March, the State Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional and the Superferry operation ceased.
Providing formal, public testimony is an important part of Pacific Whale Foundation’s advocacy work. Testimony is submitted on a variety of ocean related issues, both locally in Hawaii and around the world.
In 2019, the State of Hawaii proposed a bill to reduce single-use plastic products. Plastic pollution is a global issue and many of its harmful effects are evident in Hawaii. A recent baseline study published by Currie et al. (2018) found 90% of nearshore macro debris in Maui Nui to be plastics, and of the ~25,000 pieces of debris collected from Pacific Whale Foundation’s Coastal Marine Debris Monitoring program, 84% of debris was plastic as well. By limiting the sale and distribution of common plastic pollutants such as straws, utensils, food containers and bags, Hawaii would be on track to help reduce plastic marine debris that would hopefully initiate change around the world.
In 2016, NOAA / National Marine Fisheries Service published a proposed rule to prohibit swimming-with and approaching Hawaiian spinner dolphins within 50 yards. Spinner dolphins spend the daytime resting in bays and nearshore areas after feeding offshore at night. Disruption of the resting behavior can impact the overall fitness of spinner dolphins and their ability to forage. The proposed regulations align with our Be Dolphin Wise set of best practices for tour operations, and we support the proposed rule.
Pacific Whale Foundation acknowledges that the best available science indicates that the number of humpback whales has increased in the North Pacific. However, we urge NOAA to assume the precautionary principle when addressing this issue, and do not believe that delisting is warranted at this time. It is likely that pre-exploitation levels of North Pacific humpbacks numbered around 100,000. To achieve the state recovery goal of 60% carrying capacity would thus require the current population to number 60,000 individuals – three times the current population estimate.
On Tuesday, April 22, 2014 (Earth Day!), the Maui County Council voted unanimously in support of the Tobacco-Free Beaches and Parks bill. The day was historic for environmental and public health organizations on Maui, who are looking forward to cleaner cleaner beaches and coastlines for Maui County. The success of the bill hinges on education and outreach, and will rely heavily on community-based enforcement.
Cigarette butts are the number one most littered item in the world. They are toxic and pose a hazard for marine life, coastal communities, and the public. Both Oahu and the Big Island have already implemented some form of tobacco-free beaches legislation. Pacific Whale Foundation has been raising awareness about cigarette butt litter for nearly a decade, and we are ready to see Maui County take the next step towards solving an incredibly pervasive and chronic environmental issue. Learn more about Pacific Whale Foundation’s Tobacco-Free Beaches and Parks campaign.
In the 1970’s, killer whales (orcas) from the Northwest Pacific were rounded up by wranglers, herded into pens and then sold into captivity. A female orca named “Lolita” was eventually sent to the Miami Seaquarium where she has remained for the past 40 years. Lolita is a member of the Southern Resident killer whale (SRKW) distinct population segment, which was listed as “Endangered” on the U.S. Endangered Species List in 2005. She is the sole member of the SRKW population that remains in captivity, but has yet to be included under the endangered listing because of her captive status. National Marine Fisheries Service is currently reviewing a petition that seeks to amend the Endangered Species Act so as to recognize Lolita under the Endangered Species Act, which could increase the likelihood of Lolita’s eventual release from captivity.
Healthy fish populations are essential to maintaining healthy coral reef ecosystems. While a number of factors contribute to declines in fish populations, overfishing (removing fish from the environment at a rate faster than the fish can repopulate) is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. The Department of Land and Natural Resources has been working extensively to reformulate the current fishing regulations. The proposed regulations are a combination of minimum and maximum size limits, catch limits, and open/closed seasons. Pacific Whale Foundation supports the regulations because they are comprehensive, species specific and rely on best available science with regards to the biology and life history of reef fish.
In April 2013, the Hawaii Fishermen’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition, Inc. petitioned the federal government to re-classify the North Pacific population of humpback whale as a Distinct Population Segment, and then to remove this Distinct Population Segment from the Endangered Species List. Pacific Whale Foundation feels that removal of this species from the endangered species list is premature and unwarranted. The petition for removal does not adequately acknowledge the complexity of the North Pacific humpback whale stock, nor does it critically evaluate the status of the stock in relation to data gaps and current threats.
In June 2012, the Georgia Aquarium submitted an application for a Marine Mammal Protection Act Permit. The application requested authorization to import 18 beluga whales from the Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station in Russia to the U.S. for the purpose of public display. The animals were previously captured from the Russian Sea of Okhotsk. Pacific Whale Foundation adamantly opposes the capture and captivity of any marine mammal for public display purposes. We believe that the public display of marine mammals is not necessary to engage people, and instead provides the public with a false picture of the animal’s natural lives. On August 5, 2013 the Federal government denied Georgia’s Aquarium’s permit application.
In June 2012, the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs (AHCC) petitioned the federal government to delist the Hawaii population of the green sea turtle from the Endangered Species List. AHCC maintains that the increase in nesting female abundance over the past 30 years warrants delisting. Pacific Whale Foundation notes that while the number of nesting females has increased, this number does not meet stated recovery goals. Furthermore, threats to sea turtles in the Hawaiian Islands have not been eliminated. Pacific Whale Foundation asks the federal government to carefully and prudently consider the petition in relation to the best available science and the definition of a “recovered” population.
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) requested a Coastal Commission permit to begin a series of high-energy surveys along 130 miles of ocean in order to better understand the fault lines and seismic safety of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. The surveys were to be conducted by a 235-foot vessel towing a 1/4-mile-wide array of submerged, 250-decibel air cannons that would discharge every 15 seconds, night and day, for 17 days. Pacific Whale Foundation joined other environmentalists in arguing that the environmental impact of the surveys (such as injury and/or disruption of thousands of marine mammals including whales, dolphins, seals and sea otters) greatly outweighed the survey benefits. In November 2012, the California Coastal Commission denied PG&E the permit.
Honoapi’ilani Highway serves as the main artery into and out of Maui’s west side. Due to large, summer south swells and short-sighted planning, certain shoreline portions of the highway are severely threatened by coastal erosion. This prompted then Governor Neil Abercrombie to approve shoreline armoring along the Ukumehame portion of the highway under the tsunami disaster declaration. This action was exempt from environmental monitoring, and resulted in severe sedimentation of the reef directly adjacent to the hardening project. Pacific Whale Foundation advocates for sustainable coastal planning that considers the environmental impact of projects, which was not the case with the Ukumehame shoreline hardening project.
Olowalu Reef is one of the largest and healthiest reefs on the island of Maui. Located on Maui’s west side (south of Lahaina), Olowalu supports a manta ray cleaning station, serves as a black tip reef shark nursery, provides shoreline protection to the coast, and is responsible for seeding reefs along west Maui, Lanai and Molokai. A proposed, large-scale development on the hills above Olowalu reef will threaten the health and functionality of the reef.
Pacific Whale Foundation’s Research Director Daniela Maldini, Ph.D. testified at a hearing in Honolulu on January 20, 2011 in support of adding the Hawaiian insular population of false killer whales to the U.S. Endangered Species list.
In Hawaii, there are three populations of false killer whales: offshore (pelagic), Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and a Main Hawaiian Islands population known as the Hawaiian insular population. Due to its extremely small population size (fewer than 200) and limited range, the Natural Resource Defense Council petitioned in 2009 to list the Hawaiian insular population of false killer whales as “Endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.
Pacific Whale Foundation supported this effort by gathering thousands of petition signatures, as well as providing scientific testimony. In 2010, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a final Status Review concluding that the population was both a distinct population segment and at a “high risk of extinction”. And in 2012, NMFS officially announced that the Hawaiian insular population of false killer whales was to be listed as an Endangered Species.
Thanks in part to advocacy, activism and protective measures around the world, the humpback whale population has been steadily increasing since the 1980s. For example, over the past four decades the number of North Pacific humpbacks has flourished from about 1,000 animals to over 23,000 – with as many as 14,000 humpback whales migrating to Hawaii every winter1. Despite numerous human-made and environmental pressures that continue to pose serious threats, “Save The Whales” is a call to action that has made a real difference.
Sadly, the same success story is not the case for all marine animals struggling to survive in their natural ocean habitat. In 2017-18, Pacific Whale Foundation created an annual conservation campaign entitled “Protect the Endangered 5.” Funds raised during the campaign were donated to researchers studying five endangered cetaceans on the brink of extinction: the Hawaiian False Killer Whale, the Chilean Blue Whale, the Maui Dolphin, the Arabian Sea Humpback Whale, and the Vaquita.
False killer whales are a type of dolphin that lives in tropical and temperate waters around the world. They get their namesake from the resemblance of their skulls to that of killer whales (orcas). In Hawaii, there are three distinct populations of false killer whales. The Main Hawaiian Islands insular population is listed under the Endangered Species Act. Their numbers have declined in numbers dramatically over the past 20 years and it is estimated that less than 150 individual animals remain in this population. They are slow to recover from human impacts, including interactions with fisheries, reduced food supply, and exposure to pollutants. When they were listed as endangered in 2012, the National Marine Fisheries Service noted “a probability of greather-than-90-percent likelihood of the DPS [designated population segment] declining to fewer than 20 individuals within 75 years, which would result in functional extinction beyond the point where recovery is possible.”
The blue whale is the largest animal to ever exist and was almost exterminated by commercial whaling. The blue whale is distributed globally but is one of the rarest species of whale. Only one population off the coast of California in the eastern North Pacific Ocean is showing signs of recovery. Recently it was discovered that blue whales found off the southern coast of Chile may represent a unique population or a subspecies of blue whale. Based on differences in the Chilean blue whale and the other known populations, the International Whaling Commission determined that blue whales off Isla de Chiloe need to be managed as a separate population. Little is known about this population, but it appears that Chilean blue whales are the smallest population of blue whales in the Southern Hemisphere. Like other large whales, blue whales are threatened by pollution, habitat loss, overfishing, fishing gear entanglements, vessel collisions, and climate change.
The Maui dolphin is the world’s smallest known dolphin. It is a subspecies of the Hector’s dolphin and is found only off the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. The Maui dolphin is threatened primarily by certain fishing methods such as set-netting and trawling, although disease, pollution, mining, and natural predation are also factors impacting their survival. Estimates from 2012 indicate that only 55 individual animals remain in this population. In 2014, despite calls for greater protection efforts for the Maui dolphin, the New Zealand government opened up the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary for oil drilling. This area is the main habitat of the Maui dolphin, and in 2015 the population was estimated to be as low as 43 individuals, of which only 10 were reproductively mature females.
Arabian Sea humpback whales are a discrete population of whales that lives in the Arabian Sea year-round and does not migrate. High productivity and upwelling (cold water rising from the deep toward the surface) create conditions suitable for feeding as well as breeding. This is the most isolated and endangered population of humpback whales in the world, thought to contain less than 100 individual animals. Today, it is one of only four humpback whale populations still listed by the Endangered Species Act, and is at a high risk of extinction without conservation efforts. The Arabian Sea humpback whales face unique threats, given that they do not migrate, but instead feed and breed in the same, relatively constrained geographic location. Energy exploration, fishing gear entanglements, disease, vessel collisions, and climate change are likely to reduce the size and/or growth rate of this population.
The vaquita is a tiny porpoise found only off the coast of Mexico in the northern Gulf of California. The greatest threat to this species is entanglement in gillnets (vertical panels of fishing nets typically set in a straight line). It was estimated in 2012 that there were 200 vaquitas remaining, a number which dropped to half that by 2014 and to 60 vaquitas in 2016. The latest estimates published in 2017 indicate that only 30 vaquitas remain. The government of Mexico has taken a number of steps to protect this species, including establishing a refuge to protect their core habitat and banning gillnets within range of vaquitas. Unfortunately, illegal fishing using gillnets is still rampant and it is predicted that the vaquita could go extinct as early as 2018.
1Gregory D. Kaufman and Paul H. Forestell, Hawaii’s Humpback Whales: The Ultimate Guide, Island Heritage Publishing, 2014.
Cigarette butts represent the most common type of litter found along Maui’s coastlines. Pacific Whale Foundation and other environmental organizations supported a bill passed by Maui County in April 2014 that prohibits the use of tobacco products, including cigarette smoking, in designated county areas. In June 2015, the state of Hawaii passed a similar tobacco-free policy for state beaches and parks.
In 2016, Pacific Whale Foundation was awarded a grant from NOAA’s Marine Debris Program to develop a holistic public awareness campaign that will educate the community on marine debris issues, specifically with respect to tobacco-related litter on Maui beaches. This resulted in PWF launching our 2016-17 annual conservation campaign entitled “Tobacco-Free Beaches & Parks.” Our goal is to impact public attitudes and personal behaviors in measurable ways that limit the increase of marine debris in the world’s oceans.
Wetlands in south Maui historically served a significant cultural role for early settlements and an important ecological role for native flora and fauna. Beachfront development has drastically reduced both the number and size of south Maui wetlands. Environmental groups have offered to restore and preserve Paniaka Wetland, located near the southern end of Big Beach (Oneloa Beach).
The Paniaka Restoration Project seeks to re-establish the wetland as a significant cultural and ecological site. All restoration activities are being conducted under a curator agreement with the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and carried out through the Oneloa Coalition, a group of community organizations and local residents dedicated to preserving Makena State Park.
Makena State Park was created when the State of Hawaii purchased the 165 acres along the southwestern coastline in order to protect the area’s wilderness, as well as three remaining wetlands: Paniaka, North Pu’u Ola’i, and South Pu’u Ola’i.
Today, Paniaka and its environs have been colonized by a number of non-native and invasive plant species, which are not only altering the physical landscape and natural ecosystem, but also restricting the growth of native plants. In addition, predators introduced into the area are hindering the recovery of key species, particularly endangered birds.
The Paniaka Restoration Project aims to restore native flora and fauna within and around the area, which includes removing alien vegetation and conserving the area once restored.
Public input and participation is crucial to the success of restoring Paniaka. Groups and individuals interested in getting involved with the Paniaka Restoration Project can contact [email protected]. Donations to the Paniaka Restoration Project are also greatly appreciated. Download Poster
Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, supporting nearly one million species of algae, invertebrates and fish. Research has shown that some chemicals commonly found in sunscreen can damage coral reefs by disrupting coral reproduction, inhibiting growth, deforming coral DNA, and increasing the rate of zooxanthellae viruses and coral bleaching. We can reduce the risk of harming coral by taking a reef-friendly approach to sun protection.
Pacific Whale Foundation advocates for the use of protective clothing and reef-safe sunscreen to help protect fragile coral reefs and to promote a healthy ocean environment. We support the statewide ban on sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate and, beginning November 2019, we are moving from encouragement to enforcement and instituting our own ban onboard PWF vessels of sunscreens containing: oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, avobenzine, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, and ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate in order to alleviate any additional stress on coral reefs. When buying sunscreen, it is important to read the ingredient list, as the term “reef safe” is not regulated and can be used as a marketing device. Choose sunscreen that is non-nano zinc oxide based, like those found in our Ocean Store. Mahalo for helping us protect the ocean.
Also avoid using aerosol or spray-on products and opt for lotions instead, as aerosols travel significant distances and can impact sea turtle eggs. The most eco-friendly option is to wear rash guards or other coverups instead of sunscreen, especially when in the water.
Shelby joined Pacific Whale Foundation in the Summer of 2018 as an educator and naturalist both in the Maui and Australia operations before transitioning to conservation work full-time in the Fall of 2019. She obtained her B.S. in Environmental Studies in 2014 from the University of Oregon and has focused on marine science education ever since. Shelby’s passion stems from her interest in the delicate interwoven ocean ecosystem and the human impacts that are affecting those systems. She is responsible for coordinating environmental outreach and conservation messaging for the organization, identifying sustainability goals, and assisting with marine debris research studies.
Our thoughts go out to all that are being impacted by COVID-19. With a team dedicated to our response to this pandemic, we are meeting regularly to ensure the continuation of programs and services that allow our mission work to continue.
Pacific Whale Foundation’s leadership team is closely monitoring updates from the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization regarding COVID-19. We will continue to seek guidance from these agencies, public health officials and government agencies on an ongoing basis.