For the Love of Whales
Mark Ferrari ’72 leaped into the Pacific near the Channel Islands and discovered his life’s work. He was with David Garcelon, president of the Institute for Wildlife Studies, taking photos as Garcelon introduced bald eagles back onto the chain of islands off California’s coast. “I had borrowed an underwater camera and jumped in to see what kind of fish the eagles would be catching,” Ferrari said. “That’s when I realized where God had put color. It was just spectacular.”
The experience led Ferrari to Hawaii and ocean wildlife photography. There, he met a whale researcher who said, “You oughta meet this lady who’s been doing whale research here for a couple of years now.” Long story short, they fell madly in love, Ferrari said. “And the rest is history”—a history of groundbreaking research and a 40-year adventure studying the humpback whale.
Together, Ferrari and Debbie Glockner-Ferrari have dedicated their lives to the study and conservation of marine mammals and the preservation of the marine environment. They founded the nonprofit Center for Whale Studies in Hawaii, of which Ferrari is the president. Since 1975, they have used keen observation and noninvasive techniques to better understand the enormous, glorious humpback.
“Debbie was the first to discover how to tell the boy humpbacks from the girls,” Ferrari said about a discovery that had eluded whale researchers until then. The couple has contributed to numerous scientific papers and won the respect of the whale research community, despite the fact that neither has a graduate degree in a related field.
And they have done their best to educate the public about the mysterious giants that sometimes erroneously swim up an inland channel—like Humphrey, the famous humpback whale who in 1985 attracted enormous public attention by getting stuck upriver from San Francisco in a slough. The couple were among the researchers who helped guide Humphrey back to the ocean, which aroused the interest of Leonard Nimoy, who asked them to help with a movie he was directing—Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
“We shot live whale footage in Hawaii,” said Ferrari, who, with Glockner-Ferrari, was invited to the Hollywood premiere of the movie. “It was a lot of fun, but the most important thing is that we’ve tried to educate people about what whales really are and that we need to take care of this place that we share with these magnificent animals.”