The Making of a Marine Naturalist: Meet Erin Hord

Our Marine Naturalists at Pacific Whale Foundation are so much more than boat crew. Each member of our marine education team has a unique background and brings a variety of knowledge and experiences. We love highlighting the uniqueness that each of our Naturalists brings to the boat, and diving deeper into their passion for the ocean. We’ll be highlighting a new crew member each month. As our whalewatching season continues in full swing here in Hervey Bay, we’re thrilled to introduce Erin Hord.


Hi Erin! Whereabouts are you from? 

I was born in Miami, Florida, but I have lived the majority of my life thus far in Madison, Ohio.

What is your first memory of the ocean?

I think my first vivid memory of the ocean was when I was 8 years old and the ocean was flooding the street outside my family’s apartment building because of a tropical storm. That obviously didn’t deter me from ending up in a Marine Biology career though!

What drew you to work for Pacific Whale Foundation?

I was drawn to work for Pacific Whale Foundation because I absolutely love watching
whales in their natural habitat and working to protect the oceans they dwell in.

What experiences and education prepared you for your journey to becoming a Marine Naturalist?

I went to a small liberal arts college where the opportunities to get involved in my future career were endless. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Marine Science, and I was able to study at the Duke University Marine Lab and have immersive marine science courses in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and St. Croix. I think the experience that helped most with my journey to becoming a Marine Naturalist was my summer internship with the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, based in New Hampshire. I was an education and research intern aboard whale watch vessels, which really helped ignite my passion for marine mammal conservation.

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PWF Marine Debris Action Plan Partnership

In concert with our core research, education and conservation work focused on marine mammals, Pacific Whale Foundation began to research marine debris in 2013 when we noticed how much floating trash we were encountering during whale and dolphin surveys. By conducting formal research studies we strive to understand the types and amounts of debris that are impacting Maui coasts and marine resources, as well as closely monitor the effects of education, policy and outreach on reducing marine debris. This prevalence of debris in our oceans and along our coasts has enormous impacts on marine life, including marine mammals – making the issue essential to our work.

In August 2018, Mark Manuel, the Pacific Islands Marine Debris Regional Coordinator, invited Pacific Whale Foundation to participate in a statewide working group evaluating the progress made in Hawaii since a plan was last revised in 2016. Supported by NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, the group first convened in 2008 and brought together 30 representatives from government, academia, nongovernmental organizations and private businesses to prioritize marine debris issues specific to Hawaii. Over time, 48 organizations developed the Hawai‘i Marine Debris Action Plan, which established a comprehensive framework for strategic action to reduce the ecological, health and safety, and economic impacts of marine debris in Hawai‘i from 2016 through 2020.

Goals of the Plan:

  • Reduce sources of marine debris through prevention
  • Reduce the amount and impacts of ocean-based marine debris
  • Support and sustain marine debris removal
  • Increase capacity to address abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs)
  • Conduct high quality research to understand marine debris

During the August 2018 Oahu-based meeting, each of the 30 participating organizations reported progress made towards achieving these goals and then worked collaboratively revise the Action Plan for the next 2 years, creating ways that each can work together to tackle the most pressing issues facing Hawaii.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s marine debris work provided significant progress towards achieving the goals outlined in the 2016 plan and was among the top contributing organizations of the original 48 that helped to develop the plan, along with the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Surfrider Foundation, 808 Cleanups and Hawaii Wildlife Fund. We are actively working towards 4 of the 5 goals through our continued land and at-sea marine debris research, as well as our ongoing education and outreach initiatives.

“To find effective solutions to Hawaii’s marine debris problem will require all stakeholders such as governments, NGOs, academia, the private sector, and the public to work together,” remarks Pacific Whale Foundation Senior Research Analyst Jens Currie, “Marine debris accumulation is a multi-step process and PWF is focusing their efforts on understanding the “end of the line” impacts on our oceans and marine life. We want to address the issue at the source, so we can work towards effective solutions. Being included in this statewide consortium allows us to work with other organizations to target larger audiences to ensure our findings are impacting change.”

Pacific Whale Foundation has dedicated substantial resources to better understand the impact that marine debris poses to Hawaii. In addition to maintaining removal efforts, we strive to leverage these opportunities for data collection and scientific research. Working closely with the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, we are producing the scientific research needed to assess and evaluate impactful legislative decisions and mitigation measures.

To make a donation in support of this important work, please visit https://www.pacificwhale.org/you-can-help/make-donation/.

Have a group interested in making a difference with a beach cleanup activity? Sponsor a 2-3 hour event; we will provide coastal marine debris monitoring program kits, research and conservation experts, transportation and any coordination you need. Contact us

The Last Straw Art Sculpture, “From the Artist”

Meet Rachael Lallo, one of our talented graphic designers in the Pacific Whale Foundation marketing department.

Rachael worked long and hard to design the Last Straw Campaign that launched on World Oceans Day in June. The Last Straw is our conservation campaign to raise awareness about single-use plastics, focusing on plastic drinking straws. Rachael was on a creative streak and decided to use her artistic talents to create a sculpture using 5,200 individual straws and working for a total of 65 hours to create this focal point for plastic straw awareness.

Rachael Lallo: “This was a big project. Of course I couldn’t create a simple easy piece, ha ha! Being the artist I am, I wanted to make something that would be impactful and have the power to make a difference. I wanted the piece to educate people in an instant about the overpowering global issue of marine debris and debris in general. I remember being educated in grade school about other types of conservation, but now a fast shift is being made to focus on the overwhelming and alarming issue of marine debris. We’re needing to put out our own fires. This issue has grown so fast and wild that it’s consuming our planet. It’s obviously a huge threat and it feels that we’ve only recently realized it. But it’s never too late to make a change.

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Are Swim-With-Whale Operations Ethical? PWF Strives to Learn More

Swim-with-whales tours are becoming more and more popular around the world as travelers become increasingly interested in ecotourism and engagement with nature and wildlife. But, with more and more visitors jumping into the backyard of these vulnerable marine mammals, how can we keep track of the effects on their well being? We can’t manage an operation properly if we don’t understand its effects.

So, are swim-with-whales operations ethical? It’s not an easy question. The challenge is that, as interest and demand for these activities grows exponentially, scientific research simply cannot keep up; it takes time, patience, and careful precision to collect reliable data.

Yes, ecotourism is an alternative to the overuse of natural resources. It can also bring money into poor countries that are rich in biodiversity but have little else to offer in terms of world trade. These swim-with-humpback-whale operations are up and running in places such as Tonga, the Dominican Republic, Tahiti, Norway, Western Australia, and the Fraser Coast in Queensland, Australia. But as hard as the governments of these countries might work to ensure that the operations are ecologically viable, many projects are unaudited and not subject to stringent regulations. Pacific Whale Foundation is interested in finding out more about this tourist offering, specifically in Hervey Bay. In 2014, the Queensland government authorized commercial operators to begin immersive “swim-with-whales” tours with the vulnerable humpback whale, and we want to learn more.

Photo taken August 3, 2018 from Pacific Whale Foundation’s Swim-With-Whales Impact Study. This humpback whale approached the passengers and swam around them a few times.

Our research team has developed an impact study with three objectives:  (1) to better understand if humpback whales change their behaviour due to in-water interactions with humans, (2) to identify factors which may influence behaviour change, and (3) to provide recommendations to governing authorities, resource managers, and tour operators to ensure that Hervey Bay’s humpback whales are not negatively impacted by swim-with-whales tourism.

We believe that wherever possible, baseline research into natural behaviour patterns should be carried out before tourism activities are undertaken. This is also a very unique opportunity for the public to get involved with our research, as we allow a limited number of passengers to enter the water as part of our research. Are you interested in being in the water alongside a humpback whale, or learning more about the study? Please visit us here.

We’re excited as we embark on this new adventure, which will have significant implications for humpback whales in Hervey Bay and around the world. Come and join us!

New research study on “Swim-with-Whales” tourism

Beginning in July 2018, our “Swim-with-Whales” Impact Study invites a small number of vessel passengers to enter the water with humpback whales.

In Hervey Bay, Queensland the government has recently authorized commercial tour operators to allow passengers in the water alongside humpback whales and Pacific Whale Foundation wants to conduct scientific research to see how the presence of swimmers affects humpback whales in an important resting area. Our research will help ensure that this tourism activity is developed in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Our data collection supports the Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching which state that commercial swim programs should be accompanied by ongoing research to monitor whale and dolphin response to swimmers. This will be an exciting way for the public to get directly involved in citizen science while enjoying the rare opportunity to be in the water alongside a humpback whale, and it will allow our research team to identify any potential detrimental effects of these tours and hopefully mitigate them through adaptive management protocols.

If you’re in Hervey Bay between July and September and you’d like to help our researchers with this study, please visit us at the Great Sandy Straits Marina or book a trip online.

We also encourage you to check out our website for more information on this study and our research in Australia.

Going Plastic Free

We all contribute to the plastic waste problem, so we should all contribute to the solution. While recycling is a good thing to do, to truly tackle this problem we must reduce the amount of plastic we are creating in the first place. In this blog post, we encourage you to speak with your wallet and stop purchasing single-use plastics.

The first step to going plastic free is to understand why this issue is so important. In today’s world, plastics are everywhere — but did you know that every piece of plastic ever created still exists today? Plastic never truly biodegrades; it only breaks up into smaller pieces which can cause a huge problem in our environment. Microscopic organisms can ingest these tiny pieces of plastic and then up the food chain it goes. Larger animals like birds, turtles, and whales can directly ingest plastic too, or become entangled in it.

Below you will find a range of alternative products from beauty supplies to reusable lunch boxes and straws that can help you to reduce your environmental footprint. All of these items can either be found at Pacific Whale Foundation’s Ocean Stores on Maui, or we have provided links where you can purchase the item online.

Lunch and Kitchen Products 

  • Bees Wax Wraps: replace plastic cling wrap with this eco-friendly fabric dipped in beeswax.
  • ECOlunchbox: bento containers of various sizes to keep your lunch and snacks fresh and plastic free.
  • Blue Water Bento Lunch Bags: organic cotton lunch bags featuring turtles or whales.
  • Bamboo utensil travel set: bring this eco-conscious utensil set with you and never have to use plastic to-go-ware again.
  • Reusable straws: we use over 500 million straws in America alone per day, you can reduce that waste with these straws in either bamboo or stainless steel.
  • H2Go water bottle: get rid of those cases of plastic water bottles by switching to a reusable insulated bottle found in several colors and sizes.

Beauty Products

  • Bamboo toothbrush: an eco-friendly and compostable brushing alternative.
  • David’s toothpaste: an all-natural ingredient toothpaste in a recyclable aluminum tube.
  • Dental Lace: silk string dental floss in a refillable glass container.
  • Plaine Products: an aluminum bottle, all-natural, refillable service for shampoo, conditioner, body wash and body lotion to help reduce that plastic container waste.
  • Besame Mascara Cake: a solid state mascara in a tin compact so you can get rid of those plastic tubes.

Remember to #ReuseorRefuse and sign our pledge to use alternatives to plastic products.

Didn’t see your favorite product listed? Leave us a comment and tell us what sustainable product you’d love to see featured in the future!