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.

Research Program Goals 

Our long-term goal is to identify and assess major threats to cetaceans around the world and develop science-based solutions to mitigate these problems.

Our researchers work on applied research projects throughout the Pacific that focus on five major threats facing cetaceans. These threats are Bycatch (Fisheries Interactions), Marine Plastic Pollution (Ocean Pollution), Unsustainable Tourism (Tourism Pressure), Vessel Collisions with Marine Animals (Vessel Traffic) and Climate Change. Since 1980, our researchers have published over 100 peer-reviewed publications, reports and books, many of which address these major threats. We design our research to have direct management outcomes and many of our publications have been used to inform the conservation of cetaceans in our different study regions.

Access our scientific publications on our webpage:

What We Study

The impacts of the five major threats that we identified to cetacean populations are often poorly understood. The goal of our research program is to conduct rigorous scientific studies that:

(1) identify the cetaceans present in important marine eco-regions and assess their population trends;

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

(3) guide mitigation measures, through enhanced management and/or policy;

(4) continue population monitoring to understand the animals’ response to management actions and measure conservation effectiveness.

How We Conduct Research

We conduct three types of research projects:

(1) long-term (20+ years) population monitoring

(2) short-term (3-5 years) projects to measure the impact of specific stressors and identify management outcomes

(3) community science projects to encourage stewardship and supplement our dedicated research efforts

Study Sites

Our research was initiated in 1980 and primarily occurs in the Maui Nui region, which is a breeding ground for humpback whales belonging to the Hawai‘i Distinct Population Segment (DPS) and a variety of resident dolphin populations. This region includes the waters surrounding the islands of Maui, Kaho‘olawe, Lana‘i, and Moloka‘i.

Our research was initiated in 1984 in Hervey Bay, Queensland, which is a mid-migration resting ground for humpback whales on their southern migration. Humpback whales belonging to breeding stock E-1 will visit this sheltered bay as they travel south toward the Antarctic feeding grounds. There are also several dolphin species that are the focus of our research.

Our research in Ecuador began in 2002 and is based in the waters of Machalilla National Park. The town of Puerto Lopéz, in Ecuador’s Manabí province, is the headquarters for Machalilla National Park and the location for our Ecuador offices. Ecuador is a breeding ground for humpback whales belonging to breeding stock G and home to a population of common bottlenose dolphins.

Centro de Conservación Cetacea (CCC) was founded in 2001. PWF began funding CCC’s Alfaguara (blue whale) project in 2011, upon the recommendation of our former board chair, Carole Carlson, who was a scientific advisor to CCC. Fieldwork takes place around Chiloe Island, in southern Chile. These waters are home to a distinct sub-species of blue whale called the Chilean blue whale, the focus of this project. The scientific name for the Chilean blue whale is proposed to be Balaenoptera musculus chilensis.

Our collaborative project is based in the waters of Okinawa Island and began in 2021. From January to March, these waters are home to breeding humpback whales belonging to the endangered Western North Pacific DPS of humpback whales.



Scientific and Academic Publications

PWF Memberships & Affiliations


Jens Currie

Chief Scientist

Stephanie Stack

Chief Biologist

Dr. Cristina Castro

Ecuador Programs Director

Dr. Shannon Barber-Meyer

Research Manager, Hawaiʻi

Dr. Barry McGovern

Research Associate, Australia

Dr. Juliana Castrillón

Research Specialist, Ecuador

Grace Olson

Research Biologist, Hawaiʻi

Florence Sullivan

Research Biologist, Hawaiʻi

Brian Stirling

Research Technician, Hawai'i

Ticiana Fettermann

Research Technician, Australia

Elizabeth Beato

Research Assistant, Hawaiʻi

Teresa Hipólito

Research Assistant, Australia

Luna Barragán

Research Assistant, Ecuador

Hernan Orellana-Vasquez

Research Assistant, Ecuador

Rhian Bland

Research Assistant, Australia


What We Offer

In an effort to build local capacity, we welcome volunteers from the communities where we operate. If you reside in Hawaii, USA; Hervey Bay, Australia; and/or Puerto Lopez, Ecuador and are interested in volunteering with us, please email the research team to inquire about opportunities: [email protected].

Graduate students currently enrolled in a marine program that would like to partner with Pacific Whale Foundation to analyze or collect data should contact us to discuss potential projects.

We also encourage you to visit our careers webpages for Hawaii and Australia to search for paid positions that are available and may be of interest to you.


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.