Research History

Pacific Whale Foundation was one of the pioneers in the use of non-invasive scientific techniques to gather data about humpback whales. Pacific Whale Foundation's research efforts began in Hawaii, where researchers used shore-based, vessel-based and aerial observations of whales to gather data on the distribution and abundance of these animals. Pacific Whale Foundation also utilized photo-identification to identify and track individual whales over time.

Photo-identification of Humpback Whales

Photo-identification involves photographing the underside of a humpback whale's tail, or its flukes. Each whale's flukes have unique shapes, markings and pigmentation patterns that is unique to the individual whale. As researchers gather these fluke ID photos, they are also recording GPS data on the exact location where each fluke photo is taken, the whale's behaviors at the time, the pod composition, and other observations. In the early years of our work, our photo-identification data was recorded on photographic slides. A trained researcher visually compared new slides of individual animals against our catalog of previously identified individual whales, to look for matching flukes, or "resights." Today our data are captured with digital cameras and the researchers use database software to catalog matches. 

Other Hawaii Research Projects

In 1996, Pacific Whale Foundation began studying the odontocetes, or toothed whales and dolphins, that reside year-round in Hawaiian waters. 

Working in cooperation with the University of Hawaii, Pacific Whale Foundation also conducted the first comprehensive assessment of the marine and avian wildlife found at Molokini Marine Preserve. For seven years, Pacific Whale Foundation also conducted an assessment of Maui's threatened coral reefs, a study which used transects to evaluate the coverage of corals and the abundance and diversity of reef life in Maui's nearshore reefs.

In 2013, our researchers began monitoring and studying marine debris in the Maui four-island region. 

International Research

In 1984, Pacific Whale Foundation launched a study of humpback whales found off the east coast of Australia.

Years later, Pacific Whale Foundation provided support and assistance to researcher Cristina Castro, PhD, whose whale research focused on an area off the coast of Ecuador known as Machalilla National Park. This study later became a Pacific Whale Foundation research project, and continues today, led by Dr. Castro.

Other study sites have included Alaska, Japan, and Tonga.


Since 1984, Pacific Whale Foundation has published numerous articles, scientific papers and books.

View our list of publications >

Using our Research to Conserve Marine Wildlife

Pacific Whale Foundation is a contributing member of the Southern Ocean Research Partnership, a multi-lateral, non-lethal scientific research program aimed to improve the coordinated and cooperative delivery of science to the International Whaling Commission.

Greg Kaufman, Founder and Executive Director of Pacific Whale Foundation, is an invited participant and member of the International Whaling Commission's Scientific Committe and has presented research papers from Pacific Whale Foundation to the IWC's Scientific Committee's annual meeting for several years.

Data collected by Pacific Whale Foundation are also provided to government agencies to aid in the management of marine wildlife.