Assessing the Impacts of Human Activities on Whales and Dolphins

The goal of this study is to measure the short- and long-term impacts that human activities,  such as climate change, vessel traffic, fisheries, and marine tourism can have on the target  populations and use scientific data to advise on best practices and sustainable co-existence.

Climate Change

In the last century, humans have been accelerating the rate of climate change to dangerous and unsustainable levels. An increase in strength and frequency of weather events, both on land and in the ocean, have threatened species survival. In addition, many natural processes in the ocean are being affected by the increase in sea surface temperatures. The humpback whale, due to its long migration patterns and reliance on cool, nutrient-rich water, is a good indicator of how climate change is affecting the ocean’s productivity and health.

Pacific Whale Foundation researchers are contributors to the world’s first international research project aimed to establish an understanding of how changing ocean conditions influence the recovery of whale populations in the Southern Hemisphere. Along with PWF are more than 25 researchers from five countries gathering and contributing data to aid a team of researchers from six universities in building a model to predict whale distributions under future climate change scenarios, and help to investigate changes influencing population status and conservation of humpback whales.

Fisheries Interactions

Our research in Ecuador has revealed that fisheries interactions and bycatch is a significant threat to whales and dolphins in this region. We have documented numerous species of cetaceans becoming entangled and drowning in gill nets and even discovered marine mammals being used as bait in homemade fishing equipment. For this study, we have developed a community reporting network and from these reports we document stranded and entangled marine mammals. Our researchers are partnering with experts around the world to address entanglement in Latin America and work with the on-water community to develop mitigation strategies and provide assessment and response training.

Whale Watching

Wildlife watching is a multi-billion dollar industry that spans the globe and can have potentially  negative impacts on the targeted species. However, when conducted thoughtfully and  respectfully, tourism can have positive impacts not only on the animals but on their  environments as a whole. Conservation education, regulation compliance, and continued  monitoring and research contribute to the positive impacts of marine tourism. To this end, we provide annual trainings to tour operators in Machalilla National Park and emphasize our Be  Whale Aware code of conduct to minimize the potential impact caused by whale watching.

  • Project Partners

    Koen Van Waerebeek, Centro Peruano de Investigación de Cetáceos

    Marie Van Bressem, Centro Peruano de Investigación de Cetáceos

    Diego Tirira, Asociación de Mastozología del Ecuador

    Juan José Alava, Fundación Ecuatoriana para el Estudio de Mamíferos Marinos Diego Paez, Universidad San Francisco de Quito

    Aldo Pacheco, Pacific Adventures, Perú

    Kristin Rasmussen, PANACETACEA, Panamá

  • Recent Publications

    2020: Castro, C., Van Waerebeek, K., Cárdena,s D., Alava, J.J. Marine mammals used as bait for  improvised fish aggregating devices in marine waters of Ecuador, eastern tropical Pacific.  Endangered Species Research 41:289-302.

    2020: Remili, A., Gallego, P., Pinzone, M., Castro, C., Jauniaux, T., Garigliany, M.M., Malarvannan, G., Covaci, A. and Das, K. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) breeding off Mozambique and Ecuador show geographic variation of persistent organic pollutants and isotopic niches. Environmental Pollution, 267: 115575. Download PDF

    2018: Jiménez PJ, Alava JJ, Castro C, Samaniego J and Fair P. Stranding of Small Cetaceans with  Missing Fins Raises Concerns on Cetacean Conservation in Ecuador: Bycatch or Targeted  Fisheries?. International Journal of Fisheries Science and Research 2(1): 1006.

    *For a full list of our research publications, click here:


Please consider donating to our foundation so we can continue to employ Maui residents and conduct vital Research, Education and Conservation programs to protect the ocean and its inhabitants.

Disaster Response Funds

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.