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Pacific Whale Foundation Finds Much to Celebrate in 2020

This past year has been uniquely challenging, but good things happen even during the toughest of times. As the first month of 2021 comes to a close, we would like to reflect on the positives experienced at Pacific Whale Foundation.  

Despite the many limitations resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, we managed to continue engaging our audience with educational programs, raising funds via a fortified digital platform and advancing marine mammal research and ocean conservation.


  • Created new virtual and hybrid Ocean Camp programs with subsidized costs allowing continued education for keiki to learn about the marine environment, inspiring them to become future environmental stewards. Going virtual has given us the benefit of expanding our reach to include keiki from across the country, and our hybrid program included family members who joined for an intimate one-day snorkel trip. 
  • Published virtual educational programing, including webinars, live Q&As and virtual classrooms, and training videos
  • Successfully implemented our long-running Keiki Whalewatch program that, for the third consecutive year, has included students from Lanai and Molokai. This also marked the first year admitting Molokai middle and high school students to the program.  
  • Quickly implemented new COVID-safe guidelines to keep our PacWhale Eco-Adventures educational ecotours operating safely. We were also able to offer 50% off Kama’aina cruises while the island followed quarantine protocols. This allowed us to continue generating funds for our Research, Education and Conservation programs as well as continuing passenger-education on marine life and ocean health.


Our Research department accomplished so much during 2020 that we will be publishing a separate report with in-depth information and comments from the researchers themselves. In the meantime, here’s a teaser of 2020 positives from Research.  

  • Concurrently managed 10 research projects in Hawaii, Australia and Ecuador. 
  • Continued to build collaborations with other research groups and organizations. 
  • Despite pandemic interruptions, Research conducted successful field seasons in Hawaii, Australia and Ecuador, as well as sponsored field work for a blue whale project in Chile. A particular highlight was the rare find of a fresh humpback whale placenta in Maui Nui waters.  
  • Disseminated research results through three new scientific publications. 
  • Senior researchers, Dr. Cristina Castro, Jens Currie and Stephanie Stack participated in the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee meeting and in virtual scientific conferences to share PWF’s work and contribute to management recommendations.  
  • Participated in community events in Hawaii, Australia and Ecuador providing informative talks about our projects in-person (prior to COVID) and then virtually.   
  • Developed a Global Impact Plan with a goal of identifying and prioritizing areas of research that would allow PWF to make the greatest level of impact on whale and dolphin conservation. 


  • Created virtual presentations on a number of conservation topics 
  • Launched PWF’s informative Making Waves series on Policies to Protect, covering marine debris and responsible whale watching to date, with more to come this year.  
  • Partnered with the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Maui resorts on the new Malama Hawaii program, offering rewards to visitors giving back to the Maui community through specific conservation efforts, such as our Coastal Marine Debris Program.  
  • Organized cleanups at four sites on Maui with six different groups in support of International Coastal Cleanup Day. For World Oceans Day, PWF partnered with Extended Horizons dive shop for an organized reef cleanup as well as encouraging individual beach cleanups that resulted in over 1,400 pieces of trash removed from the marine environment.


We had several positives in 2020 from our operations in Australia and Ecuador as well.  


  • Whalewatch tours were able to run, albeit restricted in number and capacity with enhanced COVID-safe practices in operation. 
  • Community Assistance program on whale watching cruises gave 1.5% of our seating free of charge to members of the local community who were identified by aid agencies  
  • Swim with Whales Impact Study data collection was completed and ongoing photo ID collection continued with the research team 
  • Presentation on PWF Research and Conservation programs given at the Making Waves Community Conference in Hervey Bay.  
  • Students from USC and Hervey Bay High School conducted data collection aboard Ocean Defender. 
  • Community coastal marine debris collection at the FCTE Whale Festival 
  • Successful community outreach at Australia’s Paddle Out for Whales event. 
  • In-person school visits and online Plastic Pollutions Solutions programs implemented 
  • Finally, despite the worldwide pandemic and resultant border closures, PWF Australia finished the year with a small operating profit. 


  • Conducted online workshops for guides, vessel captains and park rangers regarding identifying whales and dolphins, photo ID and safe navigation around cetaceans.  
  • Dr. Cristina Castro, Research Associate, Ecuador, was invited to update the IUCN red list status for some cetacean species in Ecuador. 
  • Published a paper on cases of marine mammals used as bait for improvised fish aggregating devices in marine waters of Ecuador, eastern tropical Pacific. Download Here  
  • Published a paper on breeding humpback whales off Mozambique and Ecuador showing geographic variation of persistent organic pollutants and isotopic niches. Download Here   
  • In addition, Dr. Castro met several times with the Ministry of Environment for the implementation of a Stranding Plan in continental Ecuador in the city of Guayaquil, province of Guayas and Portoviejo, province of Manabí. She also spoke at the Ecuador Whale Festival and the Tourism and Research Conference, encouraging responsible tourism, whale watching and scientific research.   

“I consider with great pride that our whale season in Ecuador has been successful. Thanks to PWF support, we had 50 research trips from June to October 2020. Currently, I am separating and comparing the tails but we already have more than 100 new animals, many of them with incredible life stories. These data are important for long-term population monitoring and will help us determine if there are changes due to the decrease in human presence caused by the COVID pandemic.”   

 - Dr. Cristina Castro, Research Associate, Ecuador 



As a nonprofit organization, fundraising is critical to continue PWF’s mission to protect the ocean through science and advocacy and inspire environmental stewardship. In keeping with PWF’s culture of positivity, we always strive to fundraise in a way that sparks a love of the ocean and shares it with the world. We achieved this in 2020 with the following:

Held our first PWF photo contest resulting in a PWF-branded and -produced inaugural wall calendar to raise funds while providing supporters with a specialty calendar filled with beautiful images of marine life. 

  • Hosted our first-ever virtual gala, which included PWF’s 40th Annual Online Auction, quality PWF content featuring community members and PWF researchers from Hawaii, Ecuador and Australia, and gave away 100,000 airline miles and additional prizes through our Whale Regatta.
  • Presented a series of Virtual Concert Cruises featuring Maui artists Marty Dread and John Cruz, which proved quite popular and attracted viewers from around the globe to rock the boat with PWF.


In addition to enacting strong COVID protocols to ensure optimum safety for guests and crew aboard vessels and offering 50% off tours for kama’aina, PWF’s social enterprise also hosted Essential Workers Week. From June 5–12, teachers, healthcare workers and government staff affiliated with the COVID-19 response were invited on a much-deserved sunset sail cruise free of charge.

Mahalo for navigating 2020 with us! It has been a transformative journey in many ways, but not without plenty of positives. With your ongoing support, we look forward to continuing our mission  through 2021 and beyond.