Ocean Community News

Not All Heroes Wear Capes

These heroes wear waders, bow ties, hard hats, and lab coats—one even totes around a killer whale skull. The thing they have in common is a desire to help prevent vulnerable species from becoming extinct.

In 2015, NOAA Fisheries launched the agency-wide Species in the Spotlight initiative to bring attention to the recovery of eight highly at-risk species through strategic actions and expanded partnerships. The Species in the Spotlight heroes are partners who have gone beyond the call of duty to help recover these species—taking on tasks from matchmaking to administering vaccinations.

This group of highly skilled and motivated individuals demonstrates that successful species recovery requires heroes of all kinds. With the dedicated efforts of our heroes and many public and private organizations, we can make sure that endangered species move forward from “survive to thrive.”

Meet Our Recovery Heroes

Jeff Hogan spends his days toting a casting of a killer whale skull from classroom to classroom, teaching kids about whales in the wild and how they can help conserve them. Since the program’s inception, Hogan and the Killer Whale Tales program have reached more than 120,000 students from California to Washington.

Andy Goode has been a leader in negotiating dam removals throughout the state of Maine. He worked with the community to negotiate the removal of Coopers Mills Dam, and helped balance the cultural significance of the dam and community needs with the restoration of habitat connectivity for Atlantic salmon.

Dr. Kristin Aquilino has become a matchmaker for white abalone. She has facilitated successful spawns of the species in captivity (sometimes even coaxing them with romantic music), and through close collaboration with partners, figured out how to get thousands of baby white abalone through the toughest time of life—the first year. The growing number of captive-bred white abalone are destined for rebuilding populations in the wild as part of the larger white abalone recovery implementation effort.

Lewis Bair helped secure funding for and spent countless hours coordinating two major projects that will improve the survival of Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon. Reclamation District 108 contributed approximately $500,000 to the permitting and design of one of these projects, and Bair engaged key partners to fund and implement both.

The Ke Kai Ola Marine Mammal Center has been instrumental in Hawaiian monk seal recovery, including rehabilitating and releasing 21 seals since the facility opened in 2014. Four more seals were released this past summer. Overall, the center has rehabilitated about 2 percent of the population. The Ke Kai Ola Marine Mammal Center also helped with the initial stages of the morbillivirus vaccination program.

The Cook Inlet Beluga Conservation Program team at the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson has been a valuable partner in helping conserve Cook Inlet beluga whales. The team engages in research and conservation activities that implement many of the priority actions identified in the Species in the Spotlight Action Plan. Their sharing of data, resources, and even video footage of the whales, has significantly contributed to NOAA Fisheries’ understanding and conservation of Cook Inlet beluga whales.

Dr. Brian Dietterick has advanced restoration and recovery efforts for Central California Coast coho salmon at the southern extent of their range. He has mentored graduate and undergraduate students on coho salmon conservation and has been a vital partner in forging relationships with private landowners. He and his colleagues have also collected and shared data in support of the Central California Coast coho salmon federal recovery plan, supported the conservation hatchery program by hosting meetings and field tours for the Scott Creek Lagoon restoration project, and conducted high-priority, multi-year restoration projects on the Swanton Pacific Ranch.

The State University of Papua (UNIPA) has been engaged since 2005 in recovering the last and largest-remaining leatherback nesting population in the Pacific, which nests on Jamursba Medi and Wermon Beaches on the remote Bird’s Head Peninsula in Papua-Barat, Indonesia. UNIPA has worked at “ground zero” for leatherback conservation in the Western Pacific, including surveillance of nests to deter predators. UNIPA has also worked to gain the trust of local communities and engage them in the conservation effort.


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