Research

One of the founding principles of Pacific Whale Foundation is to contribute to the scientific understanding of marine life and marine ecosystems. Our research program uses a two-pronged approach of long-term and short-term projects.

Short-term studies are based on specific questions and issues in contemporary research. They contribute to the peer-reviewed body of knowledge that is disseminated primarily via scientific journals, reports, and meetings of the scientific community and resource management agencies. Long-term projects generally involve collection of data over many years, producing results at a lower rate but providing the background information for short-term efforts. These types of studies are also necessary to detect and monitor trends, particularly those related to the impact of anthropogenic (human) pressures on our oceans and wildlife.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s research efforts are focused primarily in Hawaii, Australia, Ecuador and Chile. However, other study sites have included Alaska, Japan and Tonga; and we work in collaboration with researchers in other areas throughout the Pacific.

View our list of Publications & References >

CURRENT STUDIES

OUR STORY

Pacific Whale Foundation is a pioneer in the use of non-invasive scientific techniques to gather data about humpback whales. Our research efforts began in the mid-1970s in Hawaii, using shore-based, vessel-based, and aerial observations to study humpback (baleen) whales.

In 1996, Pacific Whale Foundation researchers began studying odontocetes (toothed) whales and dolphins that reside year-round in Hawaiian waters. Working with the University of Hawaii, we also conducted the first comprehensive assessment of marine and avian wildlife at Molokini Marine Preserve. Other early studies included a 7-year assessment of Maui’s threatened coral reefs using line transect surveys (data collection along systematically mapped routes), to evaluate the health and diversity of nearshore coral organisms.

We were also early adopters of photo-identification (or photo-ID) to identify and track individual humpback whales over time. This process involves photographing flukes (the underside of the tail), to identify shapes, markings and pigmentation patterns that are unique to each whale. In the early years, we used photographic slides to manually compare and match new sightings to previously identified whales. Today we capture data with digital cameras and use database software to catalog matches.

Some of these initial projects are ongoing and we invite you to learn more about our current science-based initiatives. Much of our work is conducted aboard our dedicated research vessel, Ocean Protector. Our studies are also supported by PacWhale Eco-Adventures, including whalewatching and snorkel ecotours that act as “platforms of opportunity” for the collection of scientific data.

OUR TEAM

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  • Greg Kaufman
    PWF Founder and Chief Scientist
  • Greg Kaufman is the Founder and Executive Director of Pacific Whale Foundation and author of numerous books and scientific publications on cetaceans. A pioneer in non-invasive humpback whale research off Maui in the mid-1970s, Greg founded Pacific Whale Foundation in 1980. He committed his new organization to educating the public, from a scientific perspective, about whales and their ocean habitat. Greg oversees the longest running humpback whale research programme off Australia (started in 1984) and Ecuador.

    An innovator in sustainable marine ecotourism, Greg is a highly sought after advisor to governments, agencies and other stakeholders on best practices for responsible dolphin and whalewatching programs. He is also one of the world’s leading advocates for whales and whale protection issues. Greg is an Invited Participant to the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee and is a contributor to the Sub-Committees on Whale-watching, Southern Hemisphere Whales, and Bycatch.

    Greg has served on the Hawaiian Island Humpback National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Committee, and is a contributing member to the Southern Oceans Research Partnership. He co-led the United Nations Environmental Programme’s Regional Workshop on Marine Mammal Watching in the Wider Caribbean Region, and was the U.S. delegate in a recent international workshop held in Patagonia to develop a Five Year Global Plan for Whalewatching.

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  • Cristina Castro
    Ecuador Research Director
  • Cristina received a Ph.D. in Biology and a B.A. in Biology and Chemistry at the Central University of Ecuador. Her research interests are conservation of marine mammals and their ocean habitat in Ecuador. Since 1997, her studies have focused on the breeding grounds of humpback whales in the 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.

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  • Stephanie Stack
    Senior Research Biologist
  • Stephanie came to Pacific Whale Foundation in 2013 as a marine mammal biologist and was appointed to research manager in 2015. She also serves on NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal and Large Whale Entanglement Response teams. Her research interests include marine mammal behavior and ecology with a focus on under-studied species. As an international researcher, she has worked with harp and harbor seals in eastern Canada, Antillean manatee and bottlenose dolphins in Belize, and developing communities and marine conservation in South Africa.

    As Pacific Whale Foundation’s senior biologist, Stephanie ensures that our research evolves to answer the most biologically relevant questions for the species being studied. Her research focuses on North and South Pacific population of humpback whales, bottlenose dolphins, Hawaiian spinner dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, and false killer whales, studying aspects of population ecology, behavior, patterns of residency, associations between individuals, and animal health.

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  • Jens Currie
    Senior Research Analyst
  • Jens came to Pacific Whale Foundation in 2013 as a data analyst and was appointed to research manager in 2015. He serves as research chair (alternate) on the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary advisory council and as a first responder on NOAA’s Large Whale Entanglement Response team. His research interests include investigating potential anthropogenic impacts on cetacean populations. He also has a wide and varied background as an analyst, including studying lobster fecundity in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, modelling the impacts of aquaculture pens on the surrounding environment, and evaluating ecosystem goods and services in coastal South Africa.

    As Pacific Whale Foundation’s senior data analyst, Jens is responsible for designing our research studies and ensuring that information is collected in a standardized manner to allow for rigorous statistical analysis. His research focuses on distance sampling, modelling cetacean population dynamics, and cetacean interactions with marine debris.

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  • Jessica McCordic
    Research Assistant
  • Jessica joined Pacific Whale Foundation in 2015 after completing her Master of Science in Biology from Syracuse University. Her research focused on the use of bioacoustics to identify seasonality, age and identity of North Atlantic right whales. She previously worked with Allied Whale, assisting with their North Atlantic Humpback Whale and Finback Whale Catalogs. Jessica manages Pacific Whale Foundation’s humpback whale photo-ID catalogs and leads the field work for our land-based study on humpback whale behavior.

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

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  • Abigail Machernis
    Research Assistant
  • 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.

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  • Dave Holmes
    Research Volunteer
  • Dave started as a research volunteer in November 2011 and is primarily involved in quality control of the South Pacific Humpback Whale Catalog. He holds a B.S. from Kansas State University and served in U.S. Army tours in South Korea and Germany. Dave’s many hobbies include hiking, scenic photography, whalewatching, seashell collecting, and reading.

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  • Lorraine Holmes
    Research Volunteer
  • Lorraine is a retired Administrative Assistant and Equine Veterinarian Technician. She started volunteering in the research department in November 2011 and manages our library of references. Lorraine is an avid reader, enjoys various activities with the Kaunoa Senior Center, and volunteers at the Maui Humane Society.

APPLY FOR AN INTERNSHIP!

Learn more about Pacific Whale Foundation’s Research Internship Program.