Naturalist Spotlight: Maddie Buresh

“So what brought you out here? And … how? How did you do it?”

We get this question a lot. Many folks are fascinated by the steps it takes to become a Pacific Whale Foundation certified Marine Naturalist. Our naturalists are college grads from all over the country – Minnesota, Kansas, California, Idaho, Florida, you name the state – we’ve most likely had a naturalist from there. The majority of us applied online and had numerous phone and Skype interviews, where we were able to show our enthusiasm and demonstrate our knowledge of marine conservation. Plenty of us had other experiences outside of college before we started here, including marine mammal research, internships, and other field work. Our hiring managers must have an incredibly difficult time making their selections from all the interested and skilled applicants – who doesn’t want to move to Maui?

In this upcoming series of blogs, I’d like to introduce some of the incredible naturalists who work for our organization and explore their passions and experiences that led them to Pacific Whale Foundation.

Meet Maddie Buresh. This red-headed force of nature has been passionate about animals and biology since childhood. I asked her a few questions about how she got her start and what motivates her on a day-to-day basis. Check out our conversation!

1) When did you first realize you wanted to be involved with marine conservation?

I wanted to be a veterinarian since kindergarten, and it was only when I switched my college major from biology to marine vertebrate biology that I realized that I wanted to pursue that instead. No classes had ever made me feel that passionate about a subject or so driven to go and share what I learned.

2) What is your favorite part of being a Marine Naturalist?

The keiki. I love working with the kids. They’re just so enthusiastic and excited about the smallest things. You teach them, and they teach you too.

3) What’s one of the coolest experiences you’ve had out on the water?

There are so many amazing moments, but the coolest one was during a Sunset Cocktail Cruise, when a mother humpback whale and her calf came mere feet from our boat’s swim step.

4) How do you spend your free time on Maui when you’re not out saving our oceans through science and advocacy?

I like to spend time journaling and drawing in coffee shops, and I like to be outside. I also really love hanging out with my friends and their three little children.

5) What’s one thing folks may not know about being a Marine Naturalist?

We’re often in the spotlight as boat crew and educators, and many people probably think that is all that we do. But there is a lot that happens behind the scenes. As a PWF naturalist, a day’s work may require me to be a lifeguard, a research assistant, a wildlife interpreter, a cocktail server, a maintenance assistant, and a free diver to name a few. We have a lot of job descriptions wrapped up together, and a lot of responsibility –  but we also have amazing jobs.

6) You’re headed to Australia soon! Can you tell us what you’ll be doing down there and what you’re most excited/nervous about?

Pacific Whale Foundation is operating Hervey Bay Ultimate Whalewatches in Australia this summer – which is their winter. I’ll be playing a few different roles, from whalewatch naturalist, to research assistant, to office worker and retail staff. There is one word that can sum up both what makes me nervous and what excites me: CHANGE! It will definitely take me out of my comfort zone and challenge me, but I’m definitely looking forward to the whole experience and the growth that will come from it.

7) If there’s just one conservation message you’d like to leave folks with, what would it be?

If we let them, environmental issues can really get us down. But what would it look like if everyone in the world just did something as seemingly small as picking up one piece of trash a day? That would be over 7 billion pieces of trash. Let’s reflect on the negative things only as much as it takes to learn from them how we can make changes and work toward more sustainable lifestyles and a healthier planet.

Isn’t Maddie awesome? We think so too! Stay tuned for more features on our other naturalists. If you have any questions for us, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.








Promising partnership in Guatemala

Whalewatching continues to grow globally with new markets emerging. Guatemala is the latest country seeking to develop whale watch operations off its Pacific coast focusing on the annual migration of humpback whales that migrate through their waters December through June. The humpbacks are thought to be en route to/from their breeding and calving grounds off Costa Rica, and likely spend their summer months feeding near central California northward to BC, Canada.

Greg Kaufman, founder of Pacific Whale Foundation recently traveled to the small coastal community of Montericco, Guatemala — best known for its 20km- long nature reserve of coast and coastal mangrove wetlands — to speak with tour operators about whalewatching and learn first-hand their challenges and whale observations.

The department of tourism, INGUAT, reached out to Kaufman for advice on this new developing industry. They stressed the importance of wanting to take a scientific approach to cultivate sustainable tourism in the area. Kaufman shared his thoughts on regulation and responsible practices.

Continue reading

Protecting the Ocean, One Purchase at a Time

Healthy oceans depend on a lot of factors – one of the most important being you and me. Our choices as consumers have a profound influence on the future of the marine environment, and believe it or not, can affect the smallest algae to the largest whale.

Unfortunately, the manufacturing consumer products typically comes with a big environmental price tag. A single t-shirt, for example, can use up to 700 gallons of water.  Not to mention the host of chemical dyes and pesticides that are associated with a shirt’s manufacturing.

As an organization committed to minimizing our environmental impact, Pacific Whale Foundation has taken numerous steps to green its retail operations. One way that we are making a difference is by substituting traditional products, like 100% cotton t-shirts made in China, with items that are more environmentally friendly.

One of our top sellers is the women’s v-neck, sea turtle shirt. What makes this shirt stand out is that it is made from 70% bamboo and 30% organic cotton. Bamboo is considered a rapidly renewable resource due to its short growing time. Bamboo also has no natural pests and can therefore be grown without the use of pesticides. Compared to traditional cotton, bamboo requires 1/3 less water. In addition, bamboo fibers contain a unique microbe called “bamboo kun”. The “bamboo kun” makes bamboo fibers naturally antibacterial, antifungal and odor resistant. Bamboo-based fabrics are lightweight, strong and soft to the touch, making them great additions to any wardrobe.


Not your ordinary women's t-shirt!  Made from 70% bamboo and 30% organic cotton.

Women’s v-neck, sea turtle shirt


On the men’s side, we’re gearing up for the winter season with a new line of Eco-fleece sweatshirts. Eco-Fleece is a high-quality polyester fiber made from 100% certified recycled plastic PET bottles. Using recycled products instead of virgin materials prevents billions of plastic bottles from entering landfills.   Reusing materials also reduces millions of barrels of oil and harmful emissions that would go into traditional production. Eco-fleece fibers are as strong as non-recycled fibers, but are made without depleting the Earth’s natural resources. Each Pacific Whale Foundation Eco-Fleece sweatshirt is made with a single 20-oz water bottle that has been blended with cotton and polyester.


Eco-fleece made from recycled plastic water bottles

Eco-fleece sweatshirt


Our new child-proof line of dishware also makes use of recycled plastics. Created by Green Eats, a San Francisco-based company, this tabletop set is made from 100% recycled plastic. It is free of BPA, phthalates and melamine, meaning that your kids won’t be ingesting any harmful chemicals while eating off their plate. Compared to non-recycled plastic, every pound of recycled plastic used to make Green Eats dishes save enough energy to run a laptop computer for an entire month. Environmentally friendly, kid friendly, and pocketbook friendly.


Kid-friendly dishware, made from 100% recycled plastic.

Kid-friendly dishware, made from 100% recycled plastic.


While these products are all environmentally preferable, we realize that we still have a long way to go towards being completely sustainable. Nevertheless, we feel it is important to take the first steps towards inspiring “green” products and “green” consumers. To see our entire line of green products, visit the Pacific Whale Foundation Ocean Store.




Making Waves through the “Eco-Revolution”

While the individuals who comprise the term “ocean activists” all work towards a common goal, the reality is, “ocean activists” come in a variety of shapes and forms, and all are armed with unique talents.

Some, for example, may use their gift of oratory to lobby on Capitol Hill or inspire others to take action at the public level.  Others address issues such as coastal erosion by restoring native dune systems and watersheds.  And still others weld the talent of a camera.

Peter Jay Brown, ocean activist, posing with the Sea Shepherd ship.

Peter Jay Brown, ocean activist, posing with the Sea Shepherd ship.

Enter Peter Jay Brown, a vivacious and outspoken ocean activist who has spent his adult life exposing environmental injustices throughout the world.  A professional cinematographer by trade, Peter Jay Brown launched his environmental career as a young boy on Cape Cod, protesting the creation of a deep water harbor.

While, with the help of President Kennedy, the harbor plan was diverted, the experience ignited a passion within Brown that would shape the rest of his life.

Pacific Whale Foundation was fortunate enough to host Brown during our recent Making Waves lectures series, held on September 10, 2014 at Pacific Whale Foundation’s Ocean Discovery Center.

Throughout the lecture, Brown entertained the audience with tales of his worldly exploits, leading us on adventures from Iceland to Japan, to South America and back.  Most recognized publicly for his stint on the critically acclaimed TV-reality series “Whale Wars”, Brown now largely works independently, partnering where he can to use his cinematography talents to raise awareness about a myriad of ocean issues.

Peter Jay Brown address Pacific Whale Foundation audience at recent lecture series

Peter Jay Brown address Pacific Whale Foundation audience at recent lecture series

Beyond the entertainment value, though, Brown spoke with true passion and sincerity about the realities of being involved with the environmental movement.  “Saving the world”, so to speaks, is a game of high stakes, little glory and a lot of emotions.  Furthermore, even the most simplistic of issues are rife with complexities, politics and people who are always looking to make a buck.

Brown nevertheless encouraged the audience, young and old, to become a part of the “Eco-Revolution”.  Making a difference, he said, rests on our individual ability to take immediate action.

There are hundreds of ways we, as the public, can get involved in what Pacific Whale Foundation likes to call “being part of the solution” – taking specific actions towards solving ocean issues.  Brown is that individual, though, that reminds us there is no better time than the present to make a difference.

Did you miss the Making Waves lecture? Watch a short clip here!

Want to start making a difference?  Visit Pacific Whale Foundation’s Conservation Page to learn more about the issues that are impacting our oceans and marine life!

The Plastic Problem: Part I “What are Plastics”

Plastics are everywhere – from cell phones to soda bottles, to trash on the beach and in our oceans. Yet while our lives are dominated by plastic, plastics and their environmental impacts are still largely misunderstood by many people. This three part series explores plastics—from their creation to what happens once they go in your trash can or recycling bin. Part I begins by answering the first big question: “What are plastics?!” 

While some plastics are naturally found in the environment, the majority are man-made. Man-made plastics are created when individual carbon molecules are chemically bonded together. These carbon molecules are typically extracted from oil, a non-renewable resource, but more eco-friendly alternatives use carbon derived from natural materials like corn oil. Individual carbon molecules are combined to create compounds like styrene, ethylene and formaldehyde. 

There are nearly limitless ways in which carbon molecules can be combined, which allows the creation of hundreds of types of plastics. One of the most prized characteristics of plastic is its ability to remain chemically inert when mixed with other substances.

This allows, for example, the storage of substances such as alcohol and gasoline in plastic containers, without compromising the integrity of the container itself. However, because plastic does not react chemically with other substances, it also does not easily decay. In fact, plastic never actually goes away in the environment—it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.


Another important chemical property of plastic is its ability to be easily molded into a variety of shapes, a characteristic that allows it to be extremely versatile and used in numerous applications. Plastics can be divided into two major categories: thermoset plastics that retain their shape once cooled and hardened, and thermoplastics that are less rigid and can return to their original form upon heating.

Thermoset plastics are used for auto and aircraft parts, while thermoplastics are easily molded and extruded into fibers, packaging and films. Within these two broad categories are numerous types of plastics:

  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) is the main plastic in ziplock food storage bags;
  • Polystyrene (Styrofoam) is formed by styrene molecules. It can form a hard impact-resistant plastic for furniture, cabinets and utensils and when heated and air blown, forms Styrofoam;
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is a thermoplastic commonly used for pipes and plumbing because of its durability and low cost as compared to metals;
  • Polyethylene is a type of plastic that comes in two forms: LDPE and HDPE
    •  Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) will float in a mixture of alcohol and water and is soft and flexible. It was first used to insulate electrical wires, but today it’s used in films, wraps, bottles, disposable gloves and garbage bags;
    • High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is a harder plastic than LDPE and sinks in an alcohol-water mixture.  Today, HDPE is used mostly for containers.

Plastics have proven revolutionary to our society, and we can thank plastics for hundreds of technological advances in science, medicine, space exploration, communication—you name it, plastics have played a crucial role. Yet despite the importance of plastic in today’s world, plastics have also proven to be one of the world’s biggest environmental issues.

Stay tuned for Part II: Where Does Plastic Go?

Field Report from Chile

Chile’s Chiloé Island and its surrounding waters serve as a crucial feeding ground for blue whales of the southern hemisphere, a migratory route for several bird species, and are a key area for the critically endangered southeast population of southern right whales.

However, the long-term conservation of the area is under threat due to the planned construction of a mega wind farm project on the coast line of Mar Brava, one of the richest zones of coastal biodiversity in Chile. Although renewable energy resources are a great alternative to reducing the consumption of fossil fuels, they can also have a negative environmental impact if not suitably located.

In November 2013, Centro de Conservatcion Cetacea participated with the International League of Conservation Photographers in documenting the area and biodiversity that would be negatively affected by this project. The work is being used to support a strong public campaign for the relocation of the mega wind farm project, and grant long term protection to the area from industrial development.