Gunars Valkirs, a renowned biophysicist, volunteers his time and considerable expertise to the Whale Trust, a Maui-based nonprofit organization that conducts permitted research on the complex behavior, communication, and social groupings of humpback whales. Currently, one strand of the Trust’s research focuses on the relationship between whale behavior and steroid hormone levels tested in blubber samples. Among his other contributions, Valkirs is mentoring and supervising students analyzing the hormone samples at Lahainaluna High School in teacher Steven Cornell’s biotechnology lab.
Valkirs has spent his distinguished professional career in medical diagnostics after graduating with a doctorate from UC San Diego. He invented and developed the first rapid, visual pregnancy test before founding his own diagnostic research company, Biosite Inc. After selling the company in 2007, Valkirs and his wife, JoRene, retired to Maui and established the Makana Aloha Foundation, a private family foundation committed to supporting and improving the Maui community. “We share the community values expressed through Focus Maui Nui. Before we moved here, we had not fully appreciated the strong sense of community and ‘ohana,” notes Valkirs.
Commenting on public education in Maui Nui, Valkirs says, “I am a product of public education and I am committed to supporting excellence.” Valkirs explains that his foundation supports public education through the agriculture program and science lab at Lahainaluna High School; environmental conservation, especially the work of the Whale Trust; human needs through healthcare projects; and the arts. Valkirs’ vision for future work includes a marine biology facility within the public school system, and establishing active collaboration in whale research between students from Maui and Alaska.
Meanwhile, the work of the Whale Trust continues by promoting scientific research on whales and the marine environment, and by developing public education programs based directly on research results. For more on the Whale Trust, go to: http://whaletrust.org/.