Research Overview

Pacific Whale Foundation researchers work on applied research projects throughout the Pacific Ocean which support conservation and management outcomes. Since 1980 our researchers  have published over 100 peer-reviewed publications, reports, and books that have been used to  advance our knowledge and inform better management of whales and dolphins. Our research  efforts and funded projects are focused in Hawaii, Australia, Ecuador and Chile and we work in  collaboration with researchers all over the globe.

The long-term goal of our research program is to identify and assess major stressors, or threats,  to whales and dolphins around the world and developing science-based solutions to mitigate these problems.

Some population of cetaceans are highly susceptible to various stressors, such as vessel traffic,  tourism pressure, marine debris, bycatch, anthropogenic sound, and climate change. Human  activities affecting whales and dolphins are generally not well understood and the goal of our  research program is to conduct rigorous scientific studies that:

(1) identify the cetaceans present and assess their population trends to determine their  resilience to stressors;

(1) identify and quantify the extent of the threats that exist to these populations;

(2) guide mitigation measures, through enhanced management and/or policy, to protect and conserve the ocean and its inhabitants.

BLOG: 2019 PWF RESEARCH ACCOMPLISHMENTS

CURRENT STUDIES

Scientific and Academic Publications

Research Accomplishments

MEET OUR TEAM

  • Jens Currie Chief Scientist

    Jens Currie is the Principal Investigator for our Hawaii research studies and manages our domestic research program. His research focuses on modelling anthropogenic and environmental impacts on cetacean populations. Jens has a wide and varied background including studying lobster fecundity in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, modelling the impacts of aquaculture pens on the surrounding marine environment, and evaluating ecosystem goods and services in coastal South Africa. Jens advises on anthropogenic impacts to cetaceans to: US Marine Mammal Commission, US National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Jens currently serves as the primary research chair on the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary advisory council, is an invited member of the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission, a member of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, and a first responder for NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding and Large Whale Entanglement Response teams. 

  • Stephanie Stack Chief Biologist

    Stephanie Stack is the Principal Investigator for our Australia research studies and oversees our international research program. Her research focuses on quantifying the impact of human activities on cetacean health and behavior and working with stakeholders to develop appropriate mitigation strategies. She has studied various aspects of marine mammal biology, ecology and conservation in Canada, Australia, Central America and the USA (Hawaii). Stephanie advises on anthropogenic impacts to cetaceans to: International Whaling Commission, Australian Federal Government, Queensland Department of Parks and Wildlife, and the Canadian Federal Government. Stephanie currently serves as an invited member of the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission, a member of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, a founding member of the Australian Citizen Science Association, and a trained responder for ORRCA and NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding and Large Whale Entanglement Response teams.  

  • Cristina Castro Ecuador Research Director

    Cristina is the Principal Investigator for our Ecuador research studies. She received a Ph.D. in Biology and a B.A. in Biology and Chemistry at the Central University of Ecuador. Since 1997, her studies have focused on the breeding grounds of humpback whales in Machalilla National Park in Ecuador. Cristina has also directed marine mammal environmental education programs and written books on environmental education for indigenous children living in the Ecuadorian jungle and coast.
  • Grace Olson Research Biologist

    Grace joined the Pacific Whale Foundation in 2017 as a research assistant after completing her graduate studies on sound patterns of social vocalizations in the Amazon River dolphins in Peru. Her research has focused on odontocete photo-identification, with emphasis on poorly studied species such as the Dusky dolphins in New Zealand, and Amazon River dolphins in Brazil and Peru.

    As Pacific Whale Foundation’s research assistant, she curates the Odontocete Photo-ID Catalogs for numerous species of dolphins, and oversees the Adopt an Animal program.

  • Abigail Machernis Research Biologist

    Abigail joined Pacific Whale Foundation in 2018 after completing her Master’s in Coastal Environmental Management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Her research has focused on evaluating the impacts of human interactions on bottlenose dolphins in the Florida panhandle. She was previously a contractor for NOAA’s Southeast Regional Office, where she worked as a large whale biologist assisting with the management and conservation of large whale species in the Gulf of Mexico.

    As Pacific Whale Foundation’s research biologist, she assists with data analysis and preparation of reports and scholarly articles.

  • Florence Sullivan Research Analyst

    Florence joined the Pacific Whale Foundation in 2019 as a research analyst. She has an M.Sc. in Wildlife Science from Oregon State University where her thesis research focused on exploring gray whale foraging ecology and behavior patterns relative to prey availability and vessel disturbance on the Oregon Coast. Previously she has worked with the Environmental Science Center in Seattle, teaching marine conservation to K-12 students, and as an oceanography contractor for NOAA Auke Bay Laboratory on joint Fisheries-Oceanography surveys in the Bering Sea. As Pacific Whale Foundation’s research analyst, she is responsible for managing our long-term data sets and conducting statistical analyses to answer research questions.

  • Kate Sprogis Research Associate

    Dr. Kate Sprogis is an Australian researcher whose expertise lies in the behavioral ecology of whales and dolphins. Kate has over a decade of experience studying the impacts of human activities on cetaceans, such as the behavioral responses of migrating humpback whales to swim-with-whale activities in the Ningaloo Marine Park, Western Australia. She joined our Australia research team in 2020 to assist with the Swim With Whales Impact Study in Hervey Bay.

  • Desmond Lai Research Assistant

  • Lizzy Beato Research Assistant

  • Mikaela Dibble-Kahn Research Assistant

PWF memberships and affiliations

  • PWF is a member or advisor for the following agencies through staff listed below:

    Jens Currie – Chief Scientist

    Email: [email protected]

    Stephanie Stack – Chief Biologist

    Email: [email protected]

    Robyn Ehrlich – Education Manager

    Email: [email protected]

    Cristina Castro – Ecuador Research Director

    Email: [email protected]

  • RISE UP Blue Call to Action Coalition

    PWF recently became a member of the RISE UP Blue Call to Action, a joint call by civil society, fisherfolk, Indigenous peoples and philanthropic organizations to governments and corporations to join us and agree to bold action to safeguard the ocean. It was created in May 2019 by the Oceano Azul Foundation, Ocean Unite and the Oak Foundation to advance common priorities, objectives, and targets that drive solutions for the ocean crisis and raise the level of ambition for action.

    PWF is working to address fisheries bycatch issues in Hawaii and Ecuador, while also working to gain a better understanding of human impacts to ocean ecosystems.

    RISE UP Blue Call to Action Coalition

  • International Whaling Commission

    The IWC is the global body charged with the conservation of whales and the management of whaling and currently has 88 member governments from countries all over the world. The Commission’s role has expanded since its establishment in 1946. In addition to regulation of whaling, today’s IWC works to address a wide range of conservation issues including bycatch and entanglement, ocean noise, pollution and debris, collision between whales and ships, and sustainable whale watching.

    Currie, Stack & Castro are invited participant on the IWC Scientific Committee.

    Castro serves as the Ecuadorian delegate to the IWC.

    International Whaling Commission

  • US Marine Mammal Commission

    The Marine Mammal Commission provides independent, science-based oversight of domestic and international policies and actions of federal agencies addressing human impacts on marine mammals and their ecosystems.

    PWF advises on anthropogenic impacts to cetaceans, with Currie being the primary contact.

    US Marine Mammal Commission

  • Society for Marine Mammalogy

    The mission of the nonprofit, international Society for Marine Mammalogy is to promote the global advancement of marine mammal science and contribute to its relevance and impact in education, conservation and management.

    Currie and Stack are both members.

    Society for Marine Mammalogy

  • Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council

    The role of the Council is to provide advice to the Sanctuary superintendent on the Sanctuary’s operations and to serve as liaisons to constituents in the community.

    Currie serves as the primary Research chair.

    Ehrlich serves as the alternate chair for the Education seat.

    Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council

  • NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Large Whale Entanglement Response Network

    Entanglement is a global problem that affects many marine mammals, and can result in starvation or drowning due to restricted movement, physical trauma, and systemic infections. The Hawaiian Islands Large Whale Entanglement Response Network (the local branch of NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program) aims to safely free some large whales, like humpback whales, from life threatening entanglements and help gather valuable information and increase awareness to reduce future entanglement threats.

    Currie is a level 3 responder

    Stack is a level 2 responder.

    NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Large Whale Entanglement Response Network

  • Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia

    ORRCA’s primary focus is the rescue, preservation, conservation and welfare of whales, dolphins, seals and dugongs in Australian waters. They have trained responders in New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland.

    Stack is a trained responder.

    Australian Federal Government & Queensland Department of Parks and Wildlife

    PWF advises on anthropogenic impacts to cetaceans, with Stack being the primary contact.

    Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia

  • Australian Citizen Science Association

    ACSA was formed to advance citizen science through the sharing of knowledge, collaboration, capacity building and advocacy. They are a member-based community that supports, informs and develops citizen science. ACSA membership is open to citizen science project managers, volunteers or anyone with an interest in citizen science.

    Stack is a founding member.

    Australian Citizen Science Association

  • Society for Latin American Marine Mammalogists

    SOLAMAC is a group of researchers with goals that include reinforcing and strengthening the Latin American scientific community dedicated to the study of aquatic mammals and their ecosystems, disseminating scientific knowledge on the aquatic mammals of Latin America, and being a space of reflection of ethical and cultural aspects of research, management and conservation of aquatic mammals and their ecosystems.

    Castro is a member.

    Ecuadorian National Assembly, Ecuadorian Environmental Ministry, and Machalilla National Park

    PWF advises on cetacean management issues, with Castro being the primary contact.

    Society for Latin American Marine Mammalogists

  • The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

    The IUCN Red List is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species. This list is used by a wide variety of people including government agencies, NGOs, educational organizations, and wildlife departments to help inform research, policy, and conservation efforts.

    PWF advises on the Red List status for some species in Ecuador, with Castro being the primary contact.

    The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

  • Full List

    PWF is a member or advisor for the following agencies through staff listed below:

    Jens Currie – Chief Scientist

    Email: [email protected]

    Stephanie Stack – Chief Biologist

    Email: [email protected]

    Robyn Ehrlich – Education Manager

    Email: [email protected]

    Cristina Castro – Ecuador Research Director

    Email: [email protected]

    RISE UP Blue Call to Action Coalition

    PWF recently became a member of the RISE UP Blue Call to Action, a joint call by civil society, fisherfolk, Indigenous peoples and philanthropic organizations to governments and corporations to join us and agree to bold action to safeguard the ocean. It was created in May 2019 by the Oceano Azul Foundation, Ocean Unite and the Oak Foundation to advance common priorities, objectives, and targets that drive solutions for the ocean crisis and raise the level of ambition for action.

    PWF is working to address fisheries bycatch issues in Hawaii and Ecuador, while also working to gain a better understanding of human impacts to ocean ecosystems.

    International Whaling Commission

    The IWC is the global body charged with the conservation of whales and the management of whaling and currently has 88 member governments from countries all over the world. The Commission’s role has expanded since its establishment in 1946. In addition to regulation of whaling, today’s IWC works to address a wide range of conservation issues including bycatch and entanglement, ocean noise, pollution and debris, collision between whales and ships, and sustainable whale watching.

    Currie, Stack & Castro are invited participant on the IWC Scientific Committee.

    Castro serves as the Ecuadorian delegate to the IWC.

    US Marine Mammal Commission

    The Marine Mammal Commission provides independent, science-based oversight of domestic and international policies and actions of federal agencies addressing human impacts on marine mammals and their ecosystems.

    PWF advises on anthropogenic impacts to cetaceans, with Currie being the primary contact.

    Society for Marine Mammalogy

    The mission of the nonprofit, international Society for Marine Mammalogy is to promote the global advancement of marine mammal science and contribute to its relevance and impact in education, conservation and management.

    Currie and Stack are both members.

    Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council

    The role of the Council is to provide advice to the Sanctuary superintendent on the Sanctuary’s operations and to serve as liaisons to constituents in the community.

    Currie serves as the primary Research chair.

    Ehrlich serves as the alternate chair for the Education seat.

    NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Large Whale Entanglement Response Network

    Entanglement is a global problem that affects many marine mammals, and can result in starvation or drowning due to restricted movement, physical trauma, and systemic infections. The Hawaiian Islands Large Whale Entanglement Response Network (the local branch of NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program) aims to safely free some large whales, like humpback whales, from life threatening entanglements and help gather valuable information and increase awareness to reduce future entanglement threats.

    Currie is a level 3 responder

    Stack is a level 2 responder.

    Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia

    ORRCA’s primary focus is the rescue, preservation, conservation and welfare of whales, dolphins, seals and dugongs in Australian waters. They have trained responders in New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland.

    Stack is a trained responder.

    Australian Federal Government & Queensland Department of Parks and Wildlife

    PWF advises on anthropogenic impacts to cetaceans, with Stack being the primary contact.

    Australian Citizen Science Association

    ACSA was formed to advance citizen science through the sharing of knowledge, collaboration, capacity building and advocacy. They are a member-based community that supports, informs and develops citizen science. ACSA membership is open to citizen science project managers, volunteers or anyone with an interest in citizen science.

    Stack is a founding member.

    Society for Latin American Marine Mammalogists

    SOLAMAC is a group of researchers with goals that include reinforcing and strengthening the Latin American scientific community dedicated to the study of aquatic mammals and their ecosystems, disseminating scientific knowledge on the aquatic mammals of Latin America, and being a space of reflection of ethical and cultural aspects of research, management and conservation of aquatic mammals and their ecosystems.

    Castro is a member.

    Ecuadorian National Assembly, Ecuadorian Environmental Ministry, and Machalilla National Park

    PWF advises on cetacean management issues, with Castro being the primary contact.

    The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

    The IUCN Red List is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species. This list is used by a wide variety of people including government agencies, NGOs, educational organizations, and wildlife departments to help inform research, policy, and conservation efforts.

    PWF advises on the Red List status for some species in Ecuador, with Castro being the primary contact.

Hawaii Visitor Update

Aloha, We Are Open!  Our PacWhale Eco-Adventures are open for booking as we welcome visitors back to Maui.  Quarantine restrictions were lifted on Oct. 15th for those following the state’s pre-arrival COVID-19 testing requirements.

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