Whales of Potosi Research Project


Katherina Audley

Meet the Project Founder and Director:

Katherina Audley has been participating in whale studies and counts for over fifteen years. Formal marine mammal projects include a boat/whale interaction study at Robson Bight in British Columbia in 2003 and annual whale counts on the Oregon Coast and Hawaii. As a member of the American Cetacean Study and webmaster for the Marine Mammal Society, she keeps abreast of whale research and findings and attends marine mammal conferences.
            Katherina has a lot of boat moxie. She has worked as a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay, Alaska, owns and captains a small boat in Oregon and has spent thousands of hours on the water, mostly in the interest of marine mammals. A consistent open water SCUBA diver since 2002, Katherina is comfortable underwater, as well.

            Having spent five years working as a researcher, data collector and project evaluator in the Research and Evaluation department at The Exploratorium, a prestigious science museum located in San Francisco, Katherina is experienced with data collection, interviewing, study design and data analysis. Today she keeps up on her spreadsheet and report writing skills by assembling monthly and quarterly reports for web and business clients.
            An entrepreneur, web developer, graphic designer, writer, search engine optimization and marketing specialist and project manager with over 19 years of experience, Katherina has helped dozens of businesses, large and small, start up, grow, increase visibility and thrive and has organized and overseen groups of people on all organizational levels.
            As a travel writer and photographer, Katherina is known for her ability to connect, communicate and inspire. She is a frequent contributor to The Oregonian’s Travel section, Oregon Coast Magazine and Northwest Travel and has also published her work in MSN Local, Bing Travel, VIA Magazine, Bark Magazine, The Sun, Orion online, The San Francisco Chronicle and a number of anthologies. Her stories about Playa Blanca and El Refugio de Potosi, published in The Oregonian, generated a notable increase in tourism for the area in 2013.
            Katherina has traveled to over 25 countries but knows and loves Mexico best. Barra de Potosi holds a special place for Katherina. She has been visiting, living and working in the area for over 18 years, was married on the beach (during whale season, of course) and has maintained meaningful relationships with people in the village as well with members of the expat community over the years. She lived in Spain, Argentina and Bolivia for extended periods of time and has been studying and speaking Spanish for 25 years.
            Barra de Potosi and Playa Blanca is the place in Mexico that Katherina is the most passionate about she believes this whale project will help to protect it. She is committed to applying her talents to this project and helping it to succeed in the long run.

Contact Katherina at: katherina@whalesinmexico.com

Project Partners, Advisors and Visiting Scientists


Pablo Mendizabal
Pablo Mendizábal Reyes

President of Biotropicos A.C., a non-profit focused on the preservation and protection of the region of Playa Blanca, Guerrero, Mexico, founder of the Municipal Institute of Zihuatanejo Ecology, owner of Adventours, a local ecotourism outfit in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo. Pablo Mendizábal has been instrumental in bringing together the Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo community to help us generate awareness about the project and participates in the safe whale watch training program to teach safe whale watch practices to guides and boat operators in Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo for years to come.

Here is a newspaper story including quotes from Mendizábal about the project

And here is how the Institute of Ecology will be helping our project

mari smultea


Mari Smultea, M.Sc. has over 27 years of experience studying the effects of human-related activities on primarily marine mammals and sea turtles (but also other marine and terrestrial species). Mari specializes in assessing effects of underwater sound on marine animals. Mari has extensive experience in permitting; NEPA, ESA and MMPA regulations; regulatory agency consultation; habitat management and enhancement; and mitigation and monitoring. She has >15,000 hours of related field experience, much of it in the Pacific and Arctic (e.g., Hawaii, Alaska, and the Eastern Tropical Pacific), but also in more distant locales, such as Australia and the Antarctic region.

Mari Smultea, M.Sc. also has a strong commitment to giving back to the community, as well as helping the environment. She is of course very passionate about marine mammals and enjoys being with them in their natural environment, be it from a boat or diving below the water's surface to study their behavior. She especially enjoys working with non-profit groups - sharing her experience and expertise with those who might not otherwise be able to afford her invaluable contributions - to save the animals and their world that she cares about so deeply.


John Calambokidis

John Calambokidis is a Research Biologist and one of the founders of Cascadia Research, a non-profit research organization formed in 1979 based in Olympia, Washington. He periodically (1991-2013) serves as an Adjunct Faculty at the Evergreen State College teaching a course on marine mammals. His primary interests are the biology of marine mammals and the impacts of humans. As a Senior Research Biologist at Cascadia Research he has served as Project Director of several hundred projects. He has authored two books on marine mammals ( the award-winning Guide to Marine Mammals of Greater Puget Sound from Island Publishers, with R. Osborne and E.M. Dorsey and Blue Whales from Voyageur Press, with G.H. Steiger) as well as more than 100 publications in scientific journals and over 100 technical reports. He has conducted studies on a variety of marine mammals in the North Pacific from Central America to Alaska. He has directed long-term research on the status, movements, and underwater behavior of blue, humpback, and gray whales. His work has been covered on shows and articles by Discovery Channel, National Geographicand others.

John and his colleagues at Cascadia Research Collective have helped us to match many of the flukes in our catalog with humpback whales ID'ed along the west coast of North and Central America from Panama to British Columbia. Thanks to John and Cascadia Research Collective, we are starting to get some ideas about where the whales in Guerrero come from and go when they're not in our local waters.


Denise King

Denise King, M.S. has studied and taught subjects ranging from botany and ecology to marine biology, microbiology, and evolution. Prior to setting anchor at the Exploratorium in San Francisco as a senior exhibit developer in 2001, Denise worked as a field biologist and a lecturer at SF State. King first visited our study region in 1999 and will be returning as a guest scientist and educator to offer science walks, teaching strategies and explore the beach, lagoon and ocean with backpack microscope, black sheet and binoculars at the ready.

During her first official visit as a science educator-in-residence in 2015, Denise was spotted plunging into the lagoon, the waves and many interesting shrubberies around the village in pursuit of bioluminescent microorganisms and potentially cool bugs for kids and adults to observe through a microscope for the first time in their lives. 2016 is sure to bring more fun adventures in science with Denise.


Sally Mizroch Sally Mizroch, M.Sc. developed and manages the North Pacific humpback whale fluke photo-identification collection at NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory. Sally invented the computer-assisted matching system that allows fast matching of the more than 30,000 photos in the flukes photo collection, which contains photos dating back to 1966. As part of her work on photo-identification, she has developed many protocols for integrating data into large databases and has taken a lead role in the transition from film to digital photography. She has used both whaling and photo-identification data to estimate vital rates of many cetacean species and populations. She is particularly interested in large mammal population dynamics and reproductive biology and enjoys fostering large-scale collaborative research which crosses national boundaries to encompass the entire range and ecosystem of each whale species she studies. Sally also serves as the US representative to SOMEMMA (Sociedad Mexicana de Mastozoologia Marina – the Mexican Marine Mammal Society).

Sally has worked at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center for her entire scientific career. She began studying Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska groundfish in the Center’s Resource Ecology and Fisheries Management Division in 1977, and in 1979 she transferred to NMML to study vital rates of Antarctic baleen whales, which were still being hunted commercially at the time. She was a member of the U.S. delegation to the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee from 1980 to 1988. Some of her analyses as a young scientist provided direct scientific support for the whaling moratorium that was initiated in 1986. In 1986, she developed the humpback whale matching system and started the centralized North Pacific humpback whale flukes photo database. Sally received a B.A. in environmental studies/biology at Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio in 1975. She received her M.S. in fisheries from the University of Washington in 1983 under the supervision of Professor Doug Chapman. She has completed advanced classes in statistical sampling and analysis at both the University of Washington and at Colorado State University.

Andy Wex

Andrew Wex, M.A.

High School Marine Biology teacher with a charter program on marine biology. Find out more about how Andrew Wex will add to the project…

Read about Andy Wex, his marine biology program and the time he spent with us in February 2014


Mamíferos Marinos de Oaxaca, Biodiversidad y Conservacion Asociacion Civil (MMOBiDiC A.C.)

These guys are our colleagues to the south, in the state of Oaxaca, who have been studying most likely the same or a related population of humpback whales and dolphins. We are sharing our data with each other, always looking for fluke and fin matches, providing each other with feedback on community events and outreach, field techniques and all other things whale, community and ocean related. We hope to start spending time in each other's field regions over the next year to share knowledge with each other and among local whale guides.

Astrid Frisch Jordan

Astrid Frisch-Jordan

Astrid Frisch-Jordan is the mastermind behind the fluke ID catalog developed for Banderas Bay over the past 18+ years. She has also been instrumental in cultivating a local ethos of responsibility among the boat operators toward whales, runs the whale disentanglement network for Mexico and teaches safe boat practices to tour guide operators. Astrid provides our team with support and guidance on everything from study design and strategy to boat operations to fluke identification techniques.


Luis Medrano Gonzalez, Ph.D.

An esteemed Professor of Evolutionary Biology in the Faculty of Sciences at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City, Dr. Luis Medrano is instrumental in connecting us with graduate students and early career marine mammal scientists who are looking for opportunities to develop their field research skills and also provides us with feedback and guidance on our study protocol and practices.

Oceanic Society

Oceanic Society

America’s first ocean NGO, Oceanic Society, serves as our principle international partner and fiscal sponsor, and brings volunteers and eco-travelers to our project, and also hosts our online whale adoption program.

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