Research

Your donation helps Ocean Wise researchers learn everything they can about killer whales in the wild, so that they can ensure the best standards and regulations are set to protect them.

Since 1992, the Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program has supported conservation-oriented research on wild killer whales by Ocean Wise’s Marine Mammal Research Program, part of the Coastal Ocean Research Institute. While research is directed mostly on wild killer whales, it also includes other marine mammals that killer whales interact with in their marine environment. Research discoveries are shared through scientific publications, media, social media and public lectures, and through the provision of expert advice to governments, industry, and non-government organizations.

Over the past 25 years, the Adoption Program has supported ground-breaking research projects that include:

Contributing to an annual photo-identification-based census of killer whales in British Columbia to monitor births, deaths, and changes in distribution;

Identifying and describing pod specific dialects in resident killer whales, and using genetic and acoustic evidence, confirming the separation of three fundamentally different types of killer whales in B.C.;

Identifying differences in echolocation use and function by resident and Bigg’s killer whales, and differences in their anatomy;

Discovering that northern resident killer whales use a clan-based mating system to avoid inbreeding, and;

Aiding in the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of Springer (A73); and the rescue of Sam (T046C2), a 4-year-old Bigg’s killer whale that was trapped in a small, remote bay.

Today the Adoption Program continues to fund conservation-oriented killer whale research. Highlights of our ongoing research projects are listed below, while the full scope of the research program is outlined here.
Inferred Health of Killer Whales

The Marine Mammal Research team’s current at-sea killer whale research focuses on assessing the health of B.C.’s killer whale populations, particularly the northern resident and southern resident  populations, by assessing hormone concentrations in fecal samples and monitoring body condition and pregnancy rates through photogrammetric analysis of aerial drone images. Read more.

Photo: Coastal Ocean Research Institute/Ocean Wise
Photo: Coastal Ocean Research Institute/Ocean Wise
Photo: Coastal Ocean Research Institute/Ocean Wise
Photo: Coastal Ocean Research Institute/Ocean Wise
Conservation Genetics

For many years, the research team has studied genetic diversity of killer whales in the Northeast Pacific by analysing DNA collected from biopsy samples (small samples of tissue). In addition to studying killer whale mating systems, the research team is examining both the inherent (genetic) vulnerability of killer whale populations and the potential impact of anthropogenic stressors that reduce their ability to fight off pathogens and diseases. Read more

Distribution & Abundance

Since 1999, Ocean Wise’s B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network (BCCSN) has collected opportunistic sightings of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) and sea turtles from coastal citizens to better inform researchers about the distribution, relative abundance, and habitat use of these species in B.C. Read more about citizen science

Photo credit: Brittany Visona
Photo credit: Brittany Visona
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Mitigating Vessel Impacts

The research team has been involved in numerous projects to help mitigate vessel-related impacts on whales including: establishing a network of land-based, zero-impact whale watching sites through The Whale Trail B.C., assessing the impacts and developing mitigation techniques to reduce underwater noise on killer whales, and creating the WhaleReport Alert System to alert commercial mariners to the presence of whales in their vicinity to reduce the risk of disturbance and collision.

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