The Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) is one of the world’s leading marine advocacy organizations. Since 1980, it’s been their mission to address international marine issues through research, education and activism.

Lauren CampbellLauren Campbell is at the helm of PWF’s conservation efforts. As Conservation Manager, she works to develop and execute their many marine conservation programs, from ensuring a “green” vessel operation, to saving whales and coral reefs. She’s remains active in the local conservation community, and knows just what it takes to make a difference in our oceans and the creatures that call it home.

Campbell has seen it all, and was kind enough to fill us in on her story, her work and how easy it is to get involved.

How did you first fall in love with whales?

In my 5th grade science class we were conducting a unit on the ocean, so of course we were studying whales! I remember watching a mini-series movie in class entitled “Voyage of the Mimi”, staring a young Ben Affleck. The story line revolved around a group of scientists who sailed throughout the North Atlantic studying whales. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and was amazed that animals the size of school buses roamed underneath the sea. If whales existed – what other kinds of mysteries did the ocean hold!?!?!

Do you have a favorite species of whale? Why/why not?

Humpback whales are definitely my favorite species. They can be extremely surface active and have an amazingly diverse set of social interactions and behaviors – from the incredible “songs” that the males sing on the winter breeding grounds, to blowing bubbles and breaching (launching themselves fully out of the water). I also find humpbacks to be incredibly graceful and beautiful animals.

lunge feeding humpbacks

What is ‘your story’ of first realizing marine conservation was the right fit for you?

Loving whales and the ocean does not necessarily equate to a life as a “conservationist”. In fact, many people who go into the field of marine biology are very much disconnected from the “activist” side, and vice versa (something I hope our field can improve in the future!). In college I was really excited to learn about the ocean, but also couldn’t help but notice that there were a lot of issues that I could help solve right now, today. I started getting involved with local, ocean advocacy groups and began participating in events such as beach cleanups, dune restorations and other activist campaigns. Once I discovered that world and that the role of “activist” was the right fit, and things just fell into place from there.

Do you have any advice for others out there who might like to get involved in marine conservation?

It’s easy!! There are so many different organizations focusing on so many different marine conservation issues that there is definitely a place for you! Pick a few topics that you are particularly interested in (marine debris, whaling, marine mammal captivity) and start learning as much as you can about those topics. Research different organizations and find one that is the right fit for you – organizations are always looking for volunteers! From signing online petitions to picking up trash off the beach, we all need to get involved to make a difference for our ocean!

Are there any sublime moments that stand out for you over your years of working in marine biology, marine conservation, or with PWF?

Too many to count! Overall, being a conservationist day in and day out can be very challenging, both mentally and emotionally. So many times it can feel as if the work that you are doing is insignificant and the problem too big, or that there are just too many obstacles to overcome. But then you will be snorkeling and checking out a neat fish when all of a sudden you come face to face with a sea turtle. Or you will be paddling out for a surf session as a pod of dolphins breaks through the surface in front of you – jumping, spinning and careening through the water. It is these types of moments that keep you going and remind you why you became an ocean activist in the first place. While sometimes it can seem as if there are just too many issues plaguing our oceans, the reality is, there is still so much that can be saved that we can’t give up now!

What do you read for fun?

Anything I can get my hands on! There are a few great blogs that I follow online, but typically stick with books, sometimes more than one at a time! I like non-fiction books related to ocean conservation issue. After the release of the movie Blackfish (about killer whales in captivity), I started reading Death at SeaWorld by David Kirby – highly recommended and incredibly informative! I am also halfway through The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella – completely unrelated to ocean conservation, but a great read that explores numerous social issues.

What makes Pacific Whale Foundation special?

PWF is a unique organization because we address ocean issues through a combination of conservation, education and research. For example, I could be writing testimony on how NAVY SONAR impacts marine mammals, while our research team is in the field collecting data on whales and dolphins. Then add in our Education Department, which is teaching our youth about the importance of whales and dolphins in the ocean. It all comes full circle here at Pacific Whale Foundation, and we address the idea of “saving the ocean” through an extremely holistic and integrative approach.

What is the newest conservation initiative that Pacific Whale Foundation is undertaking?

In the past year we have really increased our Marine Debris awareness and action program. This program seeks to better understand trash in the ocean environment (how it gets there, where it is coming from, what happens once it enters the ocean), as well as to champion solutions that will help solve the issue of marine debris. Much of the program relies on public awareness campaigns and educating our communities about how their choices can make a difference for our ocean.

What can the average person do to help with this initiative?

The easiest way to start is by making a few, basic lifestyle changes. For example, we could all do a better job of cutting down our waste. Consider, for example, how much waste you generate just buying groceries alone! Do you put each type of fruit or vegetable in its own plastic bag? Do you open a new bottle of water each time you need a drink, or do you use your own, refillable container and coffee mug? Do you recycle your glass, plastics, cardboard and newspapers? Decreasing the amount of trash that goes into the environment is the first step! Joining local beach cleanup initiatives or taking the time to pick up trash in your area also makes a difference! Remember, all drains lead to the ocean! So those food wrappers or cigarette butts that are sitting on the sidewalk today are going to end up as fish food tomorrow.

If you had to guess what do you hope PWF is doing in 20 years?

Well, admittedly, my biggest hope is that we are at a point where ocean advocacy groups are no longer needed! But thinking a bit more realistically, I hope that we are still continuing to advocate on behalf of our ocean, both locally in Hawai’i and around the world. I want PWF’s model as a sustainable and environmentally friendly organization to be adopted by other groups, and for our programs to lead to a positive difference for our oceans.

What are the best ways for people to stay involved with the Pacific Whale Foundation?

To stay involved with Pacific Whale Foundation, visit their conservation page.

Note: You can also stay connected with Pacific Whale Foundation on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.