Research Projects


We identify opportunities for our members to participate in research projects as citizen scientists. Learn about our harbor porpoise study in San Francisco Bay with Golden Gate Cetacean Research and San Francisco State University, and other recent projects. 



A joint project with Golden Gate Cetacean Research, San Francisco State University and the American Cetacean Society San Francisco Bay Chapter

photo: © Bill Keener, Golden Gate Cetacean Research

photo: © Bill Keener, Golden Gate Cetacean Research


The Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) is a small cetacean that occurs along the Central and Northern California Coast. Due to a high number of takes in offshore fisheries, population state and distribution began to be monitored in the last few decades. Aerial transects, ship-based surveys, and post-mortem data have determined four distinct stocks of phocoena in the Eastern Boundary Pacific: central California, northern California, Oregon-Washington outer coast, and Washington inland waters.

In the San Francisco Bay Delta, phocoena were not sighted between the end of World War II and 2008. Since sightings began again in 2008, Golden Gate Cetacean Research (GGCR) initiated research efforts to understand why these animals are now frequenting a new specific area of Northern California, with an assessment of abundance, distribution, behavior, and habitat use. This study sought to identify specific environmental parameters of the Golden Gate that affect phocoena in respect to temporal and spatial aspects.

The Harbor Porpoise Project, run by the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the American Cetacean Society in conjunction with GGCR and San Francisco State Univeristy (SFSU) Masters candidates, initiated a citizen science program to help increase research efforts. This study was a novel opportunity to observe these animals and their behavior at close range, to practice marine mammal field observations in the ecologically distinct area of San Francisco Bay, and to participate in conservation efforts.


Phocoena exist in a dynamic environment, as does all marine life. At the Golden Gate, the marine environment changes rapidly – over the course of a day there are four tide changes that significantly affect Bay conditions. This study sought to get a better idea of the physical-biological interactions that occur across tide changes at the mouth of San Francisco Bay. The goal was to make biological predictions of marine mammal habitat use based on physical relationships in the environment.

Volunteers were asked to help perform point count surveys from two land-based observation stations on either side of the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as conduct transects across the Golden Gate Bridge to collect porpoise aggregation and activity data. Shifts were assigned in two hour increments, and volunteers were asked to commit on a monthly basis for a minimum of two shifts per week. The study volunteer work was conducted from Fall 2013 through Spring of 2015.


Laura Duffy, masters degree candidate at San Francisco State University, used the data gathered by the ACS citizen scientists to support her thesis, Temporal distribution patterns of Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) with Tidal Exchange in central San Francisco Bay. Her findings were put into a scientific poster (below).  You can review her master's thesis, here.  Laura intends to publish her findings in a peer-reviewed journal with the help of her San Francisco State University professor, Ellen Hines.  The San Francisco Bay Chapter of the American Cetacean Society is pleased that The Harbor Porpoise Project has contributed to a better understanding of phocoena abundance, distribution, behavior, and habitat use of San Francisco Bay!

Laura Duffy Masters Thesis Scientific Poster 

Laura Duffy Masters Thesis Scientific Poster 

2015 & 2016 Barra de Potosi Humpback Whale Monitoring Research Programs

A collaboration with Oceanic Society and the Whales of Guerrero Research Project

whales-guerrero logo.png

Pioneering Research in a Breathtaking Landscape
ACS San Francisco Chapter members were invited to travel to beautiful Barra de Potosí, Mexico located on Bahia de Petatlan just south of Zihuatanejo. This region is an important part of the migration route for the northeastern Pacific population of humpback whales. While the presence of whales has been documented in the area for years, there had been no formal studies of them until now.
Working as volunteer citizen scientists, participants were able to help scientists better understand this important whale population by working with the Whales of Guerrero Research Project alongside American and Mexican scientists and local fishermen to spot, identify, and make scientific observations of humpback whales and any of four species of dolphins found in the area. They also frequently observed olive ridley sea turtles, manta rays, golden cow nosed and spotted eagle rays, red-billed tropic birds, blue and brown footed boobies, roseate spoonbills, brown and white pelicans, frigate birds, and countless other noteworthy marine species. In addition to learning humpback whale fluke identification and hydro-acoustic recording techniques, participants assisted with recording other key ecosystem data. Our citizen scientists came away with a wealth of knowledge about humpback whale behavior and biology and the unique experience of being a part of a truly pioneering project.


Michael Reppy, ACS San Francisco Chapter member and participant in the 2015 project shared this feedback about his experience inspired him to do more to support he children in the local community.

photo: ©   Michael Reppy

photo: © Michael Reppy

“Being one of the “citizen scientists” in last years group of volunteers for the Whales Of Guerrero Research Project” on humpback whales in Barra de Potosi, I fell in love with this little fishing village, just south of Zihuatanejo.  And I learned of their need to support children’s education, especially computer skills, which can be important in developing other livelihoods rather than the predominant fishing, which is quickly depleting fishing stocks along the coast.  I connected with Laura Kelly, an American women who has lived there for about 20 years and started the Children’s Library, which has become a vital learning center for the children, a community meeting hall for many local groups, and environmental workshops, and includes a permaculture garden.  The library has been closed recently and lost it’s connection to the power grid, and is in need of revitalization.   So I have obtained the donation of 2 kW of solar panels from Black Rock Solar in Reno, Nevada, and will have them shipped down there.  We are organizing a team from the Mexican community and some resident Americans to install and maintain the solar panel system.  This will be a model for use of solar power, which has tremendous potential in this area of much sun, and often poor connection to the power grid.”