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 Update....

 Residents
Northern Residents

The residents are back in town!  Only a few matrilines have been seen regularly in the Queen Charlotte Sound and Johnstone Strait area but other matrilines have been seen along the remote BC Central coast.

In early July, the 8th and 9th, a mix of A clan whales were seen around Queen Charlotte Sound.  The group included whales from the A8, A34, A24, A35, A25 and C10 matrilines.  On July 18th Dr. Barrett-Lennard and Meghan McKillop researchers with the Vancouver Aquarium, encountered a super pod of residents about 15 miles offshore near the edge of a shallow bank known as Goose Bank along the Central coast.  Whales in this encounter included the A30s, B7s, I11s and R2s.  The A30s and B7s showed up again two days later in the Johnstone Strait area.  On July 23rd the R2s and R13s were also seen off the Central coast. 
 
The A23 and A24 matrilines have been doing the north island shuffle - moving back and forth between Robson Bight Ecological Reserve and Telegraph Cove since around July 23rd.  Matriarch Scimitar (A12) and brothers Plumper (A37) and Kaikash (A46) joined them periodically and the rubbing beach appears to be getting a lot of use. 

In late June researchers, Graeme Elis, John Ford and Jared Towers, with Fisheries and Oceans Canada also had a great encounter with northern residents near Prince Rupert.  During this short trip they encountered all the northern resident matrilines in the adoption program.
 

 

 

Southern Residents

Southern residents are back too!  All three pods showed up in the inland waters of the Salish Sea on July 7th and have been around consistently ever since.  Prior to July 7th subgroups from all three pods ventured in and out of the Salish Sea, but the whales had not all shown up together yet.  L pod was seen on the west side of Vancouver Island off Tofino on July 3rd, and a few days later on July 6th showed up in the Salish Sea - just in time for the super pod.

 

There’s a new calf in K pod!  A little boy, K44, is the first calf of the female K27.  Cappuccino (K21) also has a rather puzzling new nick on his left side, past his saddle patch and just down the ridge of his spine.  

 


 

 


Transients

 

With the residents around regularly now, transient sightings have slowed down a bit.  On July 9th Nitinat (T12A) was seen in Johnstone Strait opposite the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve.   There were four other transients in the area, however, he appeared to be traveling by himself.  Nitinat doesn’t venture into the inshore waters very often, so it was great to have a sighting of him.

The T123 group, Sidney (T123), Stanley (T123A) and Thrasher (T123B), was seen on July 13th near Sooke off the very southern end of Vancouver Island.  They were traveling with the T185s, T99s and T36As who took out a harbour porpoise.  The T2C group, Tasu (T2C), Rocky (T2C1) and Tumbo (T2C2), was around Johnstone Strait for four days at the end of July, 22nd – 25th.  The T21 group, Kwatsi (T21) and Pandora (T20), was seen around Desolation Sound on July 27th and 28th traveling with about six other transients as they headed north.  They were seen again in upper Johnstone Strait on August 2nd and out front of Telegraph Cove on August 8th.  The T19s were also seen a couple days earlier off Quadra Island.

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August 2011
In this issue

 Whale Update
 Field Notes
 In the News 

 

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 Killerwhale.org
 Vanaqua.org  

 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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For questions or comments about what you see in this newsletter please send an email to adoption@vanaqua.org

 

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Field Notes....

An update from the field!

What a start to the field season!  The weather has been cooperative - for the most part - and whale encounters have been plentiful.   Dr. Barrett-Lennard spent nearly all of July in the field working on the Vancouver Aquarium Cetacean (Whale & Dolphin) Research boat ‘Skana’.  The 2011 field season is once again focusing on tracking and preserving the killer whale populations that traverse the waters off the Great Bear Rainforest along the remote BC Central coast. 

The resident killer whales were a little slow moving back into inshore waters this year, but the area is now abuzz with sightings.  However, the fact that there are lots of whales around doesn’t mean it’s easy to find them.  The central coast is a vast area and days can go by without seeing other boats, so most often whales are found by surveying areas where they’ve seen whales before and using a hydrophone to detect whales over greater distances than could just be seen visually.

 

The first encounter in July was bit challenging at the beginning.  It was a beautifully calm day and the research crew was testing out a new hydrophone when they heard some extremely faint, almost unrecognizable sounds.  It turned out to be very distant killer whale calls.  The calls were so distant that it took nearly two hours to find the whales but researchers can be very persistent.  A group of A clan northern residents were discovered near Cape Scott at the northern end of Vancouver Island.   The mixed group included whales from the A35s, A34s, A25s A8s, and C10s. 

 

Another day they found a ‘super pod’ that included 75 whales from all three northern resident clans.  The encounter included whales from the A30, B7, G17, I11, I15, I31 and R2 matrilines.  When the whales were first encountered they were spread out as far as the eye could see.  Very shortly after they started to group up and joined in a resting formation.  A 3 hour snooze seemed to be enough that afternoon and the whales split off again into smaller matriarchal groups – the younger whales started breaching and the vocalizations were amazing.

 

Lance also had encounters with transient killer whales.  A group of transients encountered in Milbank Sound was surprisingly active.   Transients are generally more cryptic than residents and engage less frequently in active surface behaviours.  These transients however were breaching, tail slapping, barrel rolling and making lots of vocalizations.  The vocalizations appeared quite social in nature and likely directed at other transients in the area.  They appeared to be lolling around in the area –killing time while they repeatedly batted a sea bird into the air.  Sure enough a second group of transient showed up, then everyone became businesslike and quickly left the area.


July was also good for other cetacean species.  The researchers encountered several groups of Pacific white-sided dolphins, humpbacks and a couple minke whales.  Although not marine mammals, the bait balls – clusters of small schooling fish chased up to the surface by larger predatory fish – were impressive and are good indicators of which schooling fish or bait fish are in the area.

The first two weeks of August have been spent back in the office going over our photos and recordings and tending to administrative matters.    However, as soon as I hit the send button on this email newsletter, we are heading back to the field!

 

 

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In the News....

Stranded Pacific white-sided dolphins outside Campbell River

Could you imagine mowing your lawn and looking out to see a small group of Pacific white-sided dolphins stranded on the beach near your house?  That is exactly what happened to a fellow living across the road from Oyster Bay just outside of Campbell River, BC. 

 


Photo: Dan MacLennan

Early in the morning on June 28th a group of four Pacific white-sided dolphins stranded on a sandy beach at Oyster Bay.  Word spread quickly and about 80 people showed up on the beach to help the stranded dolphins.  Volunteers with the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Marine Mammal Incident and Reporting Network also responded to help.  The volunteers corresponded with DFO officials and the Vancouver Aquarium veterinary staff to help determine that the dolphins were in decent condition and should be moved back into the water.  Working together, the group carried the dolphins on tarps to the water where they were able to swim free. 

The cause of the stranding is still unknown.  One of the dolphins had fresh-looking teeth marks from a killer whale on its back, and there had been several killer whale reports in the area the days leading up the stranding.  It is possible, therefore, that the dolphins were taking refuge in waters too shallow for the killer whales to enter…a behaviour that has been documented before in B.C.  Alternatively, some local observers wondered whether the dolphins were corralling fish in the shallow bay when they became stranded.  Most researchers feel that this is unlikely, however, since Pacific white-sided dolphins rarely travel across or feed in shallow areas.  So the mystery is still out there - why did they strand? But the good news is they were not re-sighted in the bay or along the coast indicating that a re-stranding from injury did not likely occur.

If you see a stranded, injured or dead cetacean or marine mammal please call the Marine Mammal Incident Reporting Hotline at 1-800-465-4336.  Like all wild animals, marine mammals can carry a variety of diseases, some of which are transferable to humans.  For your own safety please do not touch or try to move the animal without contacting the Marine Mammal Response Network first. 

News article:  Times Colonist

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Inbreeding in Southern Residents?

 

Is it okay to mate within your own pod?  According to the southern residents it is, or at least that is what a new study by researchers with Cascadia Research, NOAA and the Center for Whale Research found. 

DNA from individuals in the southern resident killer whale population were examined to look at parental and sibling relationships within the community.  From the samples analyzed it was possible to infer the parentage of two males with other killer whales sampled from the southern residents – these two whales were Ruffles (J1) and Mega (L41).  From the whales sampled, Ruffles (J1) was identified as the father of 5 whales from J pod, 2 from K pod and 1 from L pod.  Mega (L41) was identified as the father of 3 whales from J pod and 1 from K pod.

The evidence that southern residents are breeding within their own pod has raised concern amoung researchers that inbreeding could lead to genetic problems.  The southern residents are a very small, genetically distinct population with only 88 animals.  This study suggests that inbreeding and a loss of genetic diversity could possibly contribute to the low birth rate in the population and be limiting the population’s growth. 

Although the study showed evidence of intra-pod mating, it also suggested that southern residents avoided mating with their siblings or parents, in other words mating occurred outside the matriline.

The study also found evidence that coincided with an earlier study of mating patterns in northern residents by Vancouver Aquarium scientist Dr. Barrett-Lennard that older and larger males appear to be responsible for most of the successful mating and fathering of calves.   However, unlike the case with southern residents, Barrett-Lennard’s research showed that northern residents rarely if ever breed within their pod.

News article: Times Colonist 



photo: Joan Lopez
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New Northern Resident Killer Whale Catalogue Available Online

We are pleased to pass on the news that our research colleagues at Fisheries and Oceans Canada have just released a long-awaited updated photo-identification catalogue of northern resident killer whales.  For more information and to down load a copy, click here.