By becoming a member of the Vancouver Aquarium Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program you will be directly supporting research on wild killer whales. Continuing research will lead to a better understanding of the whales, their place in the ocean ecosystem, and the conservation measures necessary to protect them.


Whale Sightings

Northern Residents
Over the Easter weekend (Apr 15/16), the A42 matriline visited the Prince Rupert harbour. This is the fourth year in a row that we have recorded their visit to this area in the middle of April. All family members (A42, A66, A79 & A88) were accounted 1! A42 Sonora has a new calf! We could tell from aerial images last summer that A42 Sonora was pregnant so it’s exciting to see a young calf with her this spring.

In March a large group of northern residents headed east past Robson Bight. They were first seen on Mar 23rd headed east bound near the Bight, then again on Mar 25th they headed west bound and were seen off Telegraph Cove.  The group included the I11s, G17s, and Cs (with ID on the C6 males).

Sonora's (A42) new calf traveling with big brother Surf (A66) off Prince Rupert Harbour

Photo credit: Caitlin Birdsall

Southern Residents
J-pod was back in the Salish Sea for two days, May 7th & 8th.  Vancouver Aquarium head researcher Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard and colleagues had a full encounter with J-pod on Monday (May 8th) in Rosario Strait.  All of J-pod was accounted for and Onyx L87 was also still with J-pod.

A southern resident killer whale playing around
Photo credit: Lance Barrett-Lennard

Bigg's Whales
Biggs whales have been around the Salish Sea almost every day in April with lots of repeat sightings of the same family groups.  Some of these sightings include, April 9th the T18/T19s were seen heading through Active Pass and two days later were in a group of 15 Biggs whales seen near Parksville.  On April 11th two families, the T123s and T99s, worked together to kill a sea lion in Howe Sound; however, after human interference the sea lion got away.  On April 23rd the T123s were seen again in Georgia Strait just outside Porlier pass,  and on April 29th a group of 19 Biggs were seen in Georgia Strait which include the T100s, T101, T86A1, T124As, T124Ds, T11 & T11A.

On April 10th a very rare group of Biggs whales were sighted off Victoria.  The family had only been photographed a few times prior in southeast Alaska, and currently didn’t even have scientific numbers.  They were traveling with the T68B group and will be given Canadian ID numbers.


Visit the family matrilines in the 'Meet the Whales' section of our website to view the family trees. 


Program Update

We're back on the water!

Our 2017 field season has started.  Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard is back on the water out on the research vessel Skana with Drs John Durban and Holly Fearnbach. This is the fourth year of the drone-based aerial photogrammetry study to better understand the health of wild killer whales.  Last year Lance and team expanded the photogrammetry study to include two field legs for the southern resident killer whales – one in the spring and one in the fall to compare seasonal variation in body condition (plus the original field leg in August focused on the northern residents).  An important step in verifying the link between body condition and nutritional state.  They are continuing with all three field legs again this year, which means this May the team is focusing on the Southern Resident population. So watch for them on the water again this year.

We look forward to sharing some of the results this fall in the Blackfish Sounder.

Members of J pod surfacing in front of the Skana
Photo credit: Gary Sutton


In the News....

Biggs whales hunt a sea lion in Howe Sound

On April 11th two small runabout motor boats found themselves very close to a group of hunting Biggs whales in Howe Sound. The group of whales, identified as the T123s and T99s, had been working to tire out and injure an adult male California sea lions when the sea lion got close enough to and took shelter alongside a small motor boat.   The whales continued to surface around the small boats trying to get the sea lion – a situation that could have become very dangerous for the boaters and whales. 

A reminder to please be whale wise on the water this season.  Always keep 100m away from any whale, porpoise or dolphin, and if you see a group of feeding killer whales, stay 200m away to avoid the above situation all together.  Sea lions are large, vigorous animals and a killer whale hunt can take a long time to tire out, injure and/or drown the sea lion before the final kill happens – a technique used by killer whales to avoid injury themselves.  This sea lion was already very badly injured before it took refuge around the boat; however, if the sea lion had tried to jump on the boat for safety the passengers onboard could have been badly injured.  As a result as well, the killer whales lost their hard fought meal and the sea lion likely still died of its injuries.  

Read more: CBC news report
Read more: Be Whale Wise rules

Boaters to close to a group of killer whales hunting a sea lion in Howe Sound
Photo credit: Elliot Funt


Biggs killer whales: not so transient anymore
A history of research on Bigg's killer whales in BC
by Jared Towers

When research on wild killer whales began in the 1970s it was not known that there were more than one kind of orca inhabiting waters of the North Pacific Ocean. However, after a few years of field studies, researchers working in British Columbia began to notice that some of the killer whales they encountered behaved differently from the killer whales that were resident to their study areas.

The group of researchers led by Dr. Michael Bigg called these killer whales Transients because of their unpredictable movements around the coast of British Columbia. Thanks to the first researchers, we know a lot more about these silent marine mammal hunters. And because they are now seen almost more than the resident killer whales, it's time for a more appropriate name...

The article is long, but a good read if you are interested in some of the background of Biggs/Transient killer whales in BC.

Read the whole article by Jared Towers

Siwash (T10B) and his mother Langara (T10) scoping out a rocky haulout for a meal.
Photo credit: Lance Barrett-Lennard 




May 2017
In this issue

 Whale Sightings
 Research Update
 In the News 




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