Dr. Andy Szabo, Director & Research Biologist

Andy began working with AWF in 2001 as a University of Victoria graduate student studying the behavior of female humpback whales and their calves. Over the years, Andy’s research focus broadened to include humpback foraging ecology, social behavior and communication.  In 2011, he was awarded his doctorate in Wildlife Science from Oregon State University. Andy is a passionate educator.  He has served as an adjunct professor of Marine Biology at the University of Alaska Southeast, is a courtesy faculty member in Oregon State University’s Marine Resources Management program, and participates each year in the Sitka Sound Science Center's Scientist in the Schools program. Andy’s knack for logistics together with his enthusiasm for whales sparked by a childhood whale watching trip makes the challenge of coordinating AWF’s growing number of research projects, educational programs, and conservation efforts, an enjoyable one. Andy oversees AWF's Center for Coastal Conservation in the summer and spends his winters in Sitka Alaska. 


Steven Morello, Board President

Steve has had a long and colorful career in the natural history world.  Steve worked for fifteen years as a shipboard 'whale guy' on NOAA research vessels along the western North Atlantic and as a naturalist on whale watching boats in Cape Cod. Later, Steve was one of the founding partners of Natural Habitat Adventures a wildlife adventure company. Over his more than twenty years at Natural Habitat he traveled extensively around the planet, guiding and photographing the wonders he experienced. Steve’s work has appeared in countless publications, including National Geographic Magazines and books, The New York Times and as a major contributor to the photo collection of the World Wildlife Fund. He is the author of The Traveling Nature Photographer, which has been acclaimed as a must have for anyone who travels, and is interested in photography.  At present, Steve works as a naturalist photo instructor for Lindblad/National Geographic expeditions traveling around the world from Antarctica to Southeast Alaska.


Don Holmes, Board Treasurer

Don Holmes has been a resident of Petersburg Alaska since 1981 and recently retired from a 30-year career teaching in the Petersburg school district.  In the summer months Don works as a USCG licensed captain, running charters out of Petersburg on his vessel the m/v Juno. Don is a founding member and current board member of the Petersburg Marine Mammal Center.  PMMC is a member of the Alaska Stranding Network and has participated in six successful whale disentanglements since its founding. 

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Elsa Sebastian, Board Secretary

Elsa is a lifelong Alaskan, a USCG-licensed captain, and a commercial salmon troller with strong ties to the Southeast Alaska fishing fleet. After graduating from Wellesley College where she earned a degree in Environmental Studies, Elsa returned home to buy a fishing boat and started working part-time for AWF assisting with the development of the Center for Coastal Conservation. Elsa worked with AWF for several years, and is excited to continue to contribute to the vision of the organization as a board member. She has served as a board member for Alaska Marine Conservation Council and has considerable experience working with conservation nonprofits. Elsa recently started Last Stands, a project that combines adventure with conservation ethic to "groundtruth" threatened old-growth rainforest in Southeast Alaska.

Dr. Fred Sharpe, Board Member & Research Biologist

Fred’s work with bubble-netting humpbacks has been a centerpiece of AWF’s research program since the organization’s inception n 1996. Tenacious in his research, he has spent more time in the field observing social behaviors of humpbacks than most could fathom, and in 2001 he was awarded a doctorate from Simon Fraser University for his efforts.   Fred’s research has attracted some of AWF’s more eclectic collaborators, including the SETI Institute and National Geographic Society’s Crittercam team.  When Fred takes a break from whale research, he can often be found wandering the hills and forests of the Pacific Northwest collecting plant specimens and recording bird calls. Fred's handiwork can be seen in his books Birding in the San Juan Islands and Wild Plants of the San Juan Islands.

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Jim Brennan, Board Member

Jim is a lifelong Alaskan who grew up in Petersburg, where as a young man he crewed on commercial fish boats of various gear types.  He began a career as an attorney in 1976, and continually practiced civil law in Anchorage until his retirement in 2017.  His broad areas of practice included fisheries and maritime law, as well as formation and representation of Southeast Alaska borough governments.  He has over 30 years of experience captaining small recreational boats in Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska.  Jim and his wife Lani have long owned a cabin in Baranof Warm Springs.  They were happy to welcome the AWF’s foundation of its Coastal Conservation Center in the Bay, and have come to know its operations, its knowledgeable and energetic staff and its annual cadres of volunteers.  Coincidentally, and somewhat incredibly, they were happy to see humpback whales first come up into the Bay, to feed in front of the new research station!

Pat Sharpe, Board Member

The Sharpe family is large and has been generous in their support of AWF from the beginning. Fred’s brother Pat is no exception. Pat’s expertise as a 200-ton licensed boat captain and shipwright continues to help AWF meet the challenge of maintaining and safely operating our vessels in Southeast Alaska’s challenging marine environment. When not in Alaska captaining vessels, Pat owns his own business, Pat Sharpe Yacht Service, in Port Townsend, Washington.

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Michelle Fournet, Research Collaborator

Michelle's relationship with humpback whales began in 2007 when she moved to Juneau, AK to work as a marine naturalist.  During her time in Juneau she participated in a number of whale projects, and in 2011, with the help of her then-professor Dr. Andy Szabo, established a study on humpback whale communication.  Eventually, she turned the study into a graduate project at Oregon State University with Dr. Szabo as her major advisor, and in 2014 was awarded her Master's degree from Oregon State.  Michelle has continued to work with cetaceans and is now a PhD student at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon.


Leonie Mahlke, 2017 Field Station Manager

Over the course of the last seven years Leonie has held marine mammal-related positions as a volunteer, research assistant and marine naturalist in Europe, New Zealand, Canada and the US. Her interest in the marine environment resulted in a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Science from the University of Rostock (Germany). Leonie was part of the first volunteer team to operate from AWF's Center for Coastal Conservation in Warm Springs Bay in 2015, and is thrilled about coming back for the third field season this year. She is driving the research vessel and supports the day-to-day station operations. Leonie is dedicated to contributing to the sustainability of this remarkable and remote field station.  


 Madison Kosma, Graduate Fellow

Madison is a graduate student with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (UAF, CFOS). She got a B.S. in Marine Biology from the University of Hawai’i, Manoa and worked at the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB). In 2012, she followed the whales to their northern feeding grounds in Sitka, Alaska for a position at the Sitka Sound Science Center (SSSC) and remained with the organization for 4 years as the Director of Sitka WhaleFest, the Science Outreach Coordinator, the Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator, and the AmeriCorps VISTA Project Supervisor for Sitka. Along with her work at the SSSC, Madison has been a research technician in Prof. Jan Staley’s Whale Laboratory at the University of Alaska Southeast. Her graduate research uses stable isotope analyses of humpback whales and their potential diet items in Southeast Alaska to determine the proportional contribution of different wild prey species and hatchery salmon to their diets.

Danielle Derrick, Graduate Fellow

Danielle recently graduated from Carleton University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology, where she focused on the conservation and research of aquatic environments. Danielle is intrigued by the ocean because it's a mysterious place that we know so little about, yet it's a crucial aspect in our very survival. With AWF, Danielle will focus on focal whale data and hydroacoustic surveys of prey to gain a better understanding of how fine-scale whale foraging behavior correlates with local and regional prey conditions. She hopes to one day utilize in-depth research to help solve current environmental issues and to be able to bring to light the importance of conserving our natural world with the rest of society through public education and outreach.


Christine Walder, Graduate Fellow

Christine currently lives in Sweden, where she is pursuing a Master’s degree in Physical Geography and Ecosystem Analysis at Lund University. Originally from the east coast of the United States, Christine received her Bachelor’s in biology from Bowdoin College where she conducted her undergraduate research in the Bay of Fundy investigating the effects of harvesting seaweed on the ecological community. She is very excited to spend time in Alaska and learn about the local humpback population. Much of her work at the AWF field station this summer will involve answering questions about what drives the distribution of humpbacks in the area.


Robert Szucs, GIS Analyst

Robert first joined AWF as a volunteer GIS / Spatial Analyst in 2015, He was initially working with humpback whale abundance and hydroacoustic sonar data, researching the connection between the movement of whales and their prey during a season, but also getting hands-on experience at sea during humpback whale, sperm whale and sea otter surveys. Since that initial year he's been helping out when GIS work was needed and plans to return for further field seasons, having found a new home in Southeast Alaska and working with marine mammals. He has a Master's degree in Geography, specializing in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) from the University of Szeged in his native Hungary. When he's not working in Europe, he's volunteering his GIS skills across the globe, from South Africa to Indonesia, working for a wide range of NGOs in different fields including archaeology, marine biology and primate conservation.

Cindy Moore, Graphic Designer

Cindy's lifelong love for a good story helped shape her own philosophy that designers are like storytellers who help perpetuate the flow of information, helping to impart a belief, message or experience through a visual expression. Since 2006, Cindy has been working as a graphic designer at the Library of Congress (because who wouldn’t want to work at a place filled with books!). She has a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Master’s in Science in Communications Design at Pratt Institute. Cindy lends her time and design expertise to help AWF communicate its mission graphically across digital and print mediums. 

Johanna Anderson, Fluke Database Manager

Johanna's research experience reflects her diverse interests in the ecology and behavior of animals. Her study subjects have included sea otters, song birds, and baleen whales with research programs sponsored by the New England Aquarium, Point Reyes Bird Observatory, and the Marine Mammal Center. Johanna currently works at Humboldt State University studying seabirds along the Northern California coastline, and participates in seasonal research efforts with North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy. In 2011, Johanna was one of the first volunteers to respond to AWF’s request for assistance with the matching of humpback whale fluke identification images, and she now manages AWF’s online fluke matching program.

Meet Alaska Whale Foundation's most loved research dog, Zoe Cabbage.