Studying killer whales in the wild is expensive work. Transportation, equipment costs, boat maintenance and fuel are just some of the many daily costs faced by researchers in the field. By taking out a membership in the Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program, you’ll help defray these costs and become a key partner in the killer whale research effort.


Another Season Underway

[Photo: NOAA/Vancouver Aquarium]

Last summer scientists from NOAA and the Vancouver Aquarium introduced everyone to an exciting new way to study killer whales – using a tiny unmanned helicopter to look directly down on the whales, rather than just photographing them from the side.  The aim was to assess body condition, how fat or thin are the whales, and it was conducted first on the Northern Resident killer whale population.  Results from that first field season were astounding and we’re excited that the study is underway again this summer.

The research team of Drs. Lance Barrett-Lennard (Vancouver Aquarium) and John Durban and Holly Fearnbach (NOAA) completed a very successful first week off northern Vancouver Island. So far they have completed 73 flights with the unmanned hexacopter obtaining images of 51 individual Northern Resident and 12 Biggs (Transient) killer whales. Preliminary examination of the photographs indicates that the whales are generally in robust condition. 

In September the research team aims to continue the study with the Southern Resident population around Southern Vancouver Island. 

Upon completion of the analyses, this data will be used to infer the nutritional status and reproductive success of Northern Resident killer whales, relative to the abundance of their preferred prey (Chinook salmon), to provide a key comparison to the status of endangered Southern Resident killer whales.  The mammal-eating Biggs (Transients) whales will provide a further comparison from a population that is not thought to be food-limited and has been increasing in abundance over the past four decades.

See our past blog to read more about the photogrammetry project.