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Meet the Team

The Keiki Kohola Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit research organization,

founded in 1997 by a group of concerned boat captains, naturalists and local residents.

We conduct management-oriented research to help protect Maui waters as a nursery region where humpback whale mothers can safely raise their calves.


Hailing originally from the cool climes of Manchester, Northern England, Rachel arrived on Maui in 1992. She began as a naturalist on one of the many whale watching vessels that operate in Lahaina Harbor, but quickly developed a keen and enduring curiosity in Maui’s youngest whales, the keiki kohola. She began the research project in 1997 and gained her Masters and PhD through Manchester Metropolitan University, in the UK. Rachel taught Bio-statistics as an adjunct faculty member at California State University Channel Islands for 12 years, however she recently transitioned to a freelance writing, allowing more time for research. She remains eternally grateful that the whales she researches have such great taste in both winter and summertime travel destinations.

Rachel Cartwright

Lead Researcher


The Cesere brothers joined the Keiki kohola project in 2010. John and Dan bring their seasoned skills and artistic interpretation to the Keiki Kohola Team. Their stunning images are all taken during the research, and not only do these images contribute to the work underway, they also provide an unparalleled view into the underwater world of humpback whale mothers and their calves. See their spectacular images at their website;, or visit their newly opened gallery in Paia, Maui. The Cesere brothers generously donate 20% of all their profits on their whale photography to the Keiki kohola Project. These funds provide invaluable support for the continuing work of the project. 

John and Dan Cesere



Like the whales she studies, Amy migrates to Alaska each summer, spending time on and around the waters of Alaska. Since 1998, Amy has worked as an expedition guide and naturalist for numerous small passenger ships and private yachts where she can educate in her favorite classroom; the wilderness of Alaska.

Amy Venema

Co-founder & Co-Investigator

Vanessa Danielson



Vanessa joined the KKP team as our official intern in 2013 and has been dedicated ever since. She worked as a naturalist in Lahaina Harbor providing valuable outreach to other whale enthusiasts, while at the same time prioritizing the project objectives. Vanessa has led mid-season research surveys as co-investigator to the project, and fulfilled the safety diver role in 2020 and 2021. She currently works as a fulltime Wildlife Biologist in California and travels to Maui during whale season as part of the team.

Vanessa Danielson



Ever since moving to Maui 8 years ago, Kristina has spent her days working and playing on and in the water, educating people of the life below the waves. As a scuba instructor, naturalist and captain, she finds that getting people in the whale's environment and having them leave the boat in awe of such a wondrous world and its creatures, is one of life's greatest rewards.

Kristina Rau

Team Member



Magen Schifiliti

Team Member

Growing up in landlocked Chicago, Magen decided to become a Marine Biologist at age 11. After living overseas for 3 years and obtaining her Master's from the University of Western Australia, she moved to Maui. Residing full time on Maui for 7 years, she spends the majority of her time on the water either for work or play. She joined the Keiki Kohola team in 2020 and assists with all aspects of field research. She is also currently our Web Designer. 

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Cindy Wyels

Team Member

Dr. Cyndy Wyels teaches theoretical Mathematics at California State University Channel Islands and has been a long-time self confessed whale aficionado and works with shore-based networks monitoring the yearly migration of California Gray whales. In 2013, Cyndy made her first trip out to join the KKP team in Hawaii and in 2015, Cyndy returned as co-instructor with the CSU- Channel Islands student group. Adding Cyndy to the KKP team makes a real contribution to the scientific and analytical strength of our research team. Additionally, having Cyndy with us means that we now a team member who can split a dinner tab 5 ways and work out the tip.


Rob Hawes "Tiki Rob"

Vice President

Rob has been with the Keiki Kohola project since the outset, serving as VP of the non profit, bringing his business prowess to the group. However, Rob is best known as Tiki Rob. Look for his innovative tiki mugs at (Rob’s instagram)

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Shannon Malone

Team Member

Growing up along the coastal environment of San Diego, Shannon has built her personal and professional life around connecting with nature and the ocean. She received her degree in Environmental Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara where she participated in kelp forest ecology research, outdoor education programs, and completed a thesis in fisheries management. Her journey continued to Maui, where she happily works the winters as a whale naturalist and now migrates with the whales to Southeast Alaska in the summer.


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Clare Steele

Team Member

Dr. Clare Steele is a marine ecologist who studies the ocean from megafauna to microplastics. She is a co-instructor of the CSUCI student teams and a professor of environmental science and resource management. Her ongoing research in the California Channel Islands and Southern California coast examines the ecological impacts of ocean litter and microplastic debris on coastal ecosystems.

Keiki Kohola Alumni

Over the years, many friends and colleagues have mode invaluable contributions to the work of the Keiki Kohola Project.


Captain Terence Mangold was one of the original founder members of the Keiki Kohola Project. Captain Terry’s boating skills, along with an innate sixth-sense when working with whales, were a true gift to the Keiki Kohola Project. Terry’s patience, his tireless commitment and endless hours spent on the water working on the project were the cornerstone of much of the early work of the Keiki Kohola Project. Without his time and help, much of the research presented here could not have been completed. Terry left the project in 2013 and now lives in Seward, Alaska, where he runs a sports fishing charter company.


Katie Davies worked as a boat captain for the Keiki Kohola project between 2008-2012. Katie donated countless hours to this work, she was an excellent boat captain and always the first to volunteer for early morning starts and marginal weather days. Katie left Maui to pursue her Master’s Degree In Conservation Ecology – and to her marry her sweetheart, Eric. We miss Katie, but as Eric lives in Detroit, we appreciate that this must be true love.

Kristen LaBonte joined the Keiki Kohola Project in 2008, bringing her expert GIS and map-making skills to our research work. The informative maps you see on the site were all produced by Kristen. Kristen lives in Santa Barbara, California and she is the Science Librarian at UCSB.

The Keiki Kohola Project would also like to sincerely thank all the members of  the Spring Break CSU Channel Islands Student Research Teams. Since 2009, students from CSU Channel Islands have been contributing to the research of the Keiki Kohola Project. A part of a semester length college class, students travel to Maui during spring break and assist the KKP research team on the water. Their enthusiastic participation has made a high contribution to our work, and the data collected during these trips has been included in our publications.

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Thanks to all our student researchers. We hope that your time with the Keiki Kohola Project was a truly memorable part of your university education. We would also like to offer our sincere gratitude to the California State University Channel Islands for their financial support of these student research experiences.

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