We have started to hear a few reports of Northern Resident killer whales, but sightings are usually few and far between the first part of the year. Three times this spring the A42 matriline (Sonora (A42), Surf (A66), Current (A79), Cameleon (A88), and Albion (A103)), made a visit to Prince Rupert harbour on the North Coast of B.C. - Feb 26th, Mar 16th and Apr 19th. Interestingly, they have been seen in the Prince Rupert harbour in mid-April every year for the past three years.
The A42s off Prince Rupert Harbour
Photo credit: Caitlin Birdsall
J pod has made regular visits to the Salish Sea already this spring with a couple early visits from K pod as well. On May 15th Vancouver Aquarium’s Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard was out on the research vessel, the Skana, and spent a good day photographing J pod and some of K pod (see below for an update on our summer field work). This group included the J16s, J17s, J22s, J2, L87, K12s, and K13s. We are pleased to say that Granny (J2) is still alive and traveling with the pod. Other news that was announced by the Center for Whale Research is that Princess Angeline’s young calf J53 is a girl, and Polaris’ young calf J54 is a boy.
We were thrilled in April to hear of a sighting of Sam (T46Cs) off the west side of San Juan Island. Sam is the young killer whale that the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Research Program helped rescue from a small bay off the Central B.C. coast in the summer of 2013. Sam was seen traveling with the T46Bs and the T11s. The T123s, Sidney (T123), Stanley (T123A), and Lucky (T123C), were also seen in mid-April and mid-May off San Juan Island.
Visit the family matrilines in the 'Meet the Whales' section of our website to view the family trees.
We're back on the water!
Spring rolls around and people start thinking of tulips, sunshine, and spring cleaning. For the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Research Program, spring cleaning meant getting our research vessel, the Skana, ready for the start of boating season.
Our field season this year started quite a bit earlier than previous years as Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard headed out into the field at the beginning of May. Lance (Vancouver Aquarium) is working for the third summer in a row with research colleagues Drs. John Durban (NOAA Marine Mammal and Turtle Divison) and Holly Fearnbach (Whale Research Solutions) to track killer whales with an unmanned hexacopter. The aim continues to be to assess body condition - how fat or thin are the whales.
The first year of the study focused on the Northern Resident killer whale population and making sure the method of the study would work. It was super successful and everyone was excited to continue the study a second year. Last summer (year two of the study), the research team included the Southern Resident killer whale population, giving them the ability to eventually compare the nutritional status and reproductive success of the Northern Residents with the Southern Residents. This summer (third year of the study) the research team is once again expanding the study to assess the seasonal body condition of the Southern Residents. Hence why our field season started early this year. The research team will be photographing the Southern Residents in the spring and fall to see if there is a notable change in body condition, and will continue with photographing the Northern Residents in the summer.
We look forward to sharing some of the results this fall in the Blackfish Sounder.
A member of L pod playing around
Photo credit: Lance Barrett-Lennard
In April we received heart-breaking news that the body of a deceased male killer whale had been found floating off a beach near Esperanza Inlet off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Researchers with the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Cetacean Research Program who discovered the whale were unable to use traditional dorsal fin/saddle patch markings to confirm identify of the individual animal at the time. They asked the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Research Program to test the DNA from a piece of skin collected during the necropsy. DNA results confirmed what Fisheries and Oceans researchers had feared - the adult male was from the Southern Resident killer whale population.
It brings us great sadness to announce the deceased male killer whale was identified as Nigel L95. It was bittersweet news – although it was great to have a definitive result, the Southern Resident population is endangered with less than 85 members. A scar on the whale’s dorsal fin from a satellite tag deployed on the whale in February 2016 by US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers confirmed the individual identification. No clear cause of death was found during the initial necropsy and we are waiting for a full veterinary report that could still take several weeks. Click here to read more
Nigel L95 in September 2015.
Photo credit: Lance Barrett-Lennard
In the News....
Heroic rescue saves whales trapped by floating ice
Four killer whales, three adults and a baby, found themselves in peril when they became trapped by dangerous floating ice in shallow waters off the Russian island of Sakhailin. Rescuers worked for several hours and into the night to clear a path in the ice to free the killer whales. It’s a heroic story with a happy ending.
Click here to read the whole story
Photo credit: EMERCOM
From the Archives
The first annual newsletter of the Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program, the Blackfish Sounder, was printed in 1993 – its purpose was to provide adopters with the latest information on killer whales in B.C. and other parts of the world. Twenty-three issues (and years) later it’s fascinating to read the early editions and see how far we have come in the field of killer whale research.
Enjoy some of the past articles as we pull some stories from the archive!
A day at the beach
For northern residents killer whales, there's nothing quite like a good rub