Field season in Australia is underway

Pacific Whale Foundation’s Australia research program is off to a great start this year. Based out of the town of Hervey Bay, we observe the whales as they migrate along the east coast of Australia, travelling south to their Antarctic feeding grounds. We have had some amazing whale encounters, and we are already starting to see mothers arriving with their calves. Our research staff and volunteers have been going out daily since mid-July to photograph the humpback whales that migrate through the region. The whales in this population mate and have their calves in the tropical areas of northeast Australia and Oceania. The bay is relatively shallow and protected by Fraser Island, offering a nice area for the whales to stop over during their long migration south.

Working from the MV Amaroo operated by the Hervey Bay Boat Club, our researchers take opportunistic identification photos of the underside of the whales’ tail flukes. Since each fluke is unique to the individual, these photos allow us to compare the fluke of each whale we see in the field with our catalog of known whales to determine the history of sightings for each animal. Additionally, the team tries to get photos of the dorsal fins and body of the animal which helps us assess overall body condition as well as any lesions or scars that may indicate injury or poor health. To learn more about our Australian research projects, visit our website. To try your hand at matching fluke photos from our South Pacific catalog, create an account and get started at Match My Whale.


Expedition down under

Pacific Whale Foundation researchers arrived this week in Hervey Bay, a quaint community in northern Queensland. For the next few months, I will be documenting research efforts and managing our little shop as humpback whales make their annual migration from the subtropic waters of eastern Australia to their feeding grounds of Antarctica. Stephanie Stack, M.Sc. PWF’s Senior Research Biologist and Research Assistant Laura Behm will be photographing flukes and recording data of daily sightings for ongoing research in the area.

Began in 1984, Pacific Whale Foundation’s Australia humpback whale research program is the longest running study of this population. The overarching goal of PWF’s research is to advance understanding of humpback whale biology, population status and impacts of human activities on the population. PWF’s Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whale ID Catalog is a compilation of 31 seasons of research, combining detailed data on life history, behavior, spatial distribution, and human impacts.

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Save Lolita

All Things Are Possible!

Summer break may be finished, but Ocean Camp memories gust thicker than my Oklahoma accent. As I plug away behind my computer reconciling administrative tasks and reacquainting myself with current events, I can easily become discouraged with the empty nest syndrome of a quieter classroom and the multitude of unjust issues impacting our precious marine life. Yet every climb down the stairs in our office confronts me with the reason why I do what I do. Tacked on an otherwise barren, white wall is a sign that speaks volumes above the noisy staircase it decorates. The artistically rendered petition reads, “Save Lolita” referring to a captive orca. This project is a representation of the many efforts that result from our educational program Ocean Camp.

Through the eyes of a child, all things seem possible. Children have a hope that knows no bounds and an uncorrupted knowledge of what’s right and what’s wrong. They haven’t been wielded by the norms of culture and are relentless in their demand for fairness. They are juvenile in their craving for justice, and this naivety can be potent when combined with an accurate education. Education is empowering. This understanding, combined with my own residual childhood dreams and a resurrected child-like hope, is why I do what I do.

Lendy Leslie, a fourteen year old freshman, has lived in Hugo, Oklahoma, for all of her life.  She is involved with honor programs and school activities.  She is a cheerleader, and she loves gymnastics.  Her favorite animal would probably be a whale or a dog.  Lendy would someday like to live near the ocean and become a marine biologist.

From a book I authored as a school project at 14 years of age.

Like our Ocean Campers, I was a young girl who desired to see dolphins and whales live in freedom, but somewhere along the way I lost that childhood aspiration. Maybe it was a lack of direction or available educational resources, but like many young people with dreams, it became a distant possibility.

On the other hand, they say a lot can happen in a year. During last summer’s Ocean Camp, the children created petitions in regards to the sea lion performances occurring at Hawai‘i’s state fair. This year, Hawai‘i’s Governor Ige respectfully vowed to cease the issuance of permits for wild animal acts like these. Although captive cetaceans (dolphins, whales and porpoises) are not included in this decision, such victories encourage us to keep hoping and using our voices whether BIG or small for matters both f-a-r and near.

I intend for my efforts at Pacific Whale Foundation to equip others with knowledge and awareness, so they are encouraged and inspired to protect our ocean and its inhabitants. So as I consider all the issues that threaten these creatures—adversities like captivitySONAR, marine debrisdrive hunts, and ultimately extinction, I remain child-like in my determination and tenacious in my teaching. Even though there is strong opposition in retiring captive cetaceans like Lolita, I continue to teach students about marine mammals and allow them to decide how they feel about captivity. I am hopeful that one day marine mammals will no longer face this particular issue because of the attitude the children demonstrate. As author Neil Postman stated, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”

I believe that all things are possible, and as a part of my job, I am thankful I get to be a part of creating that possibility.

Preparing for a long journey home

Ocean Spirit looked elegant and vibrant like a racehorse ready to go, as crew members tend to last minute tests and system checks. Five crew members will set sail on a 5880.85 mile journey, from St. Croix, USVI to Maui, HI. Ocean Spirit, will be the ninth vessel of Pacific Whale Foundation’s eco fleet.

PWF’s Founder Greg Kaufman, joined our Eco Team on sea trials from Salt River Bay, St. Croix. Sails were drawn and she proved to be strong as well as fast, reaching a top speed of 21.9 knots! Final preparations will continue this week for scheduled departure on November 1, weather permitting. Stay tuned as will will report and track Ocean Spirit’s journey along the way.

Field Report From Ecuador

Day One:

After four planes, misplaced luggage and countless Sudoku puzzles I arrived  my final destination, Puerto Lopez, Ecuador some  5,321 miles from Maui, Hawaii. I am here to document a two-day whale festival and Pacific Whale Foundation’s 11 year  presence in a growing Whalewatch destination.

I plan to capture the transformation of a small fishing to an epic whalewatching destination. I also want to highight conservation efforts for sustainable eco-tours and communal participation and the local celebration to protect humpback whales and the Machilla Marine Park.