SC67A | Bled, Slovenia

Hues of blues and vibrant greens reflect off the calm, clear waters of Lake Bled, a fairytale of a place located in the upper region of northwestern Slovenia. It is this quaint community of Bled, nestled in the foothills of the Julian Alps and famous for its cream cake, that set the stage for nearly 200 scientists from over 40 countries to present their recommendations for whale management policies at the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee meeting in May.

The Scientific Committee (SC) is the body that advises the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on whale stock management and conservation measures. Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) Founder, Greg Kaufman is an Invited Participant to the SC and serves on several subcommittees including: Whalewatch, Southern Hemisphere whales, Small Cetaceans, Photo-ID and Non-deliberate Human Induced Mortality on Cetaceans. He also serves as the international whalewatch representative to the IWC’s Conservation Committee. Part of PWF’s presence at the IWC is to help ensure scientifically based management of the world’s whale populations.

PWF has been instrumental in providing a comprehensive assessment of the impacts and value of whalewatching. Greg is a team member for the IWC’s Modeling and Assessment of the Whalewatch Industry (MAWI) that will undertake a workshop in the next six months to define a long-term assessment on global whalewatch operations. Since 2010, Greg has also been involved in drafting an international Strategic Plan for Whalewatching. This plan is undergoing further review with an expected international roll-out in the next few years.

A dozen papers authored, co-authored, or using PWF data were presented to the SC this year. One of the most highly regarded papers was focused on photo-identification of Bryde’s whales in Latin America. This work, long thought to be near impossible to conduct, was co-led by PWF Ecuador researcher, Cristina Castro who collected and compiled the data. Barbara Galletti also presented research funded by PWF on Chilean blue whales, focusing on a small population found off the coast of Chiloe Island.

This year was historic in that the IWC allowed the creation of a working group comprised of members of the Scientific Committee and Conservation Committee, ensuring for the first time that conservation measures will rely upon scientific advice and not purely political concerns.

Despite the positive achievements at this year’s SC, members were left somber with the recent loss of Dr. Carole Carlson, a pioneering whale scientist, naturalist, conservationist and PWF Board Member. Dr. Carlson served on the Whalewatch Sub-Committee of the IWC since 1994, and organized and conducted multiple international whalewatching workshops.

One calm afternoon, traditional boats called pletna took members of both committees to an islet in the lake’s center where the Church of the Assumption of Maria is located. The evening commemorated Dr. Carlson’s commitment to the development of whalewatching guidelines throughout the world, and her dedication to education and scientific programs on behalf of whales and their natural habitats.

Many of her close colleagues said a few words, including Greg who made a very moving speech about his dear friend and the vision they shared. “Dr. Carlson was a visionary, a guardian of the sea, and an engaging advocate for public education and whale conservation. Her contributions are a living legacy to the protection of whales and their ocean home.” It was remarkable how Carole affected so many people. As the sun set over the still ice-capped mountains, a sense of hope embraced the gathering knowing that efforts will continue to be made in her memory to conserve and protect the world’s whales and our ocean environment.

Watch the Memorial for Carole Carlson, 14th May 2017, Bled, Slovenia.

 

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A long journey home

Another terrific whale season is almost complete in Hervey Bay, Australia, as Pacific Whale Foundation’s research team come to the tail end of collecting fluke identification and distribution data that will be compiled with 30 years of research in the area.

Southern hemisphere humpback mothers and calves are the last to be spotted as they complete their annual southward migration to the Antarctic feeding grounds. PWF researchers are assimilating data to take back to our research headquarters on Maui, where photographs and findings will be analyzed.

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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.

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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

The small coastal village of Puerto Lopez, Ecuador kicked off the whale season with A colorful celebration of El Festival de las Ballenas, honoring a   sixteen year tradition of colorful dance, song and culture. This annual event brings community, local politicians and various organizations together to celebrate the presence of the Humpback Whales.

The whale festival also marks the official launch of the whalewatch season and what locals call a “prosperous time”. From  the first whalewatching tours some fifteen years ago this quiet community has benefited from steady economic growth.