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Pacific Whale Foundation Bids Aloha to Founder

February 12, 2018, 6:26 AM HST · Updated February 12, 6:26 AM
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Pacific Whale Foundation Founder Greg Kaufman

Pacific Whale Foundation today confirmed the passing of founder and executive director, Greg Kaufman.  According to the organization, Kaufman passed away on Saturday after a battle with brain cancer.

“We are greatly saddened by the loss of our colleague and friend, and we extend our deepest sympathies to his family,” said PWF’s Chief Operating Officer, Kristie Wrigglesworth. “We mourn his passing, yet we also celebrate his life, his work, and his vision which continues to guide and inspire all of us at Pacific Whale Foundation, including our members and supporters around the world.”

Kaufman founded the Pacific Whale Foundation 38 years ago in response to humpback whales being brought to near extinction by commercial whaling.

Today, Pacific Whale Foundation’s research, education and conservation programs include: rigorous studies on humpback whales and Hawaiian false killer whales; sponsored research projects in Australia, Chile and Ecuador; advocacy initiatives to end whaling and marine mammal captivity worldwide; coastal marine debris monitoring and removal efforts; volunteer service projects to help preserve Maui’s unique ecosystems; and marine education programs for children.

Pacific Whale Foundation Founder Greg Kaufman

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“Greg fervently believed that we could help save whales by educating the public, from a scientific perspective, about theses amazing animals and their ocean home,” said PWF Board Chair, Paul Forestell, who co-authored Hawaiʻi’s Humpback Whales: The Ultimate Guide with Greg. “That’s how we came to offer whalewatches and other ocean ecotours in the first place — as a way to share our research, knowledge and passion with others.”

“Our goal of having every child in Maui County participate in our Keiki Whalewatch program emanated directly from Greg,” said Youth Education Specialist, Robyn Ehrlich. “That was his objective from the beginning, and his commitment to educating and building the next generation of environmental stewards permeates everything we do.” Keiki Whalewatch and other programs at Pacific Whale Foundation are supported by memberships, donations and other charitable contributions, as well as retail operations and cruises.

“Greg understood that conservation is more than a message, it’s also an investment,” said Vessel Staff Director, Blake Moore. “From using reef safe sunscreen and recycled paper, to eliminating straws on our boats and plastic bags in our stores, Greg was constantly raising the bar for our environmentally responsible policies and practices.” Since the first whalewatch, all PacWhale ecotours have been led by trained marine naturalists, and PWF researchers also use the trips as ‘platforms of opportunity’ to collect wildlife and other data.

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“As a researcher, Greg was particularly devoted to promoting and developing citizen-science,” said Senior Research Analyst, Jens Currie. “He believed that initiatives like the Great Whale Count and Whale & Dolphin Tracker would actively engage people in our research and also encourage them to get more involved in protecting marine animals.” The Great Whale Count organized by PWF is one of the longest-running citizen-science projects. This year’s count will take place on February 24 with volunteers and staff stationed at various sites along Maui’s coast.

Kaufman was a whalewatching pioneer on Maui, and had previously served on the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Committee. He was also a leader in whale research, ocean conservation, and marine ecotourism at the international level. In recent years, through his involvement with the International Whaling Commission and its Sub-Committees on Whale-watching, Southern Hemisphere Whales, and Bycatch, Kaufman was widely recognized for his guidance.

Kaufman was a contributing member to the Southern Oceans Research Partnership, co-led the United Nations Environmental Programme’s Regional Workshop on Marine Mammal Watching in the Wider Caribbean Region, and was the US delegate in an international workshop held in Patagonia to develop a Five Year Global Plan for Whalewatching. He also regularly advised governments, agencies, and other coastal management authorities on developing sustainable and responsible whale and dolphin watching programs, including in Oman, Ecuador, Chile and Australia.

“I first visited Hervey Bay in Queensland, Australia back in 1987 as part of a documentary film project,” said Kaufman in a recent interview. “I realized the area was a critical resting place for mothers and calves heading back to the Antarctic, and I resolved to establish a research base there. We’ve been there ever since.”

As a result of his efforts, Pacific Whale Foundation now has the longest running research program of humpback whales off the coast of Australia, and curates the largest database of photo-identified humpback whales in the South Pacific. Much of this ongoing research is conducted onboard whalewatch ecotours operating from July through October out of Hervey Bay. Kaufman also conducted research and consultation in American Samoa, and attended the IWC as a representative of the Kingdom of Tonga after negotiating an agreement from the King not to resume the hunting of whales.

“Greg was tireless in championing the cause of whales and dolphins and other sea life living wild and free,” said Forestell. “He was a visionary with great enthusiasm and unwavering dedication — qualities that ensure his contributions will continue long after this journey.”

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