The Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program is a program of the Coastal Ocean Research Institute, an Ocean Wise Initiative. All contributions go directly to research and conservation of killer whales in the wild. Contributions are tax-deductible both in Canada and the USA to the extent of the law.  


About the Adoption Program

The Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program, launched in 1992, raises funds to support ground-breaking research on wild killer whales by the Marine Mammal Research Program. It was founded by Dr. John Ford to help cover operational costs of the Cetacean Research Program, and today continues to be the main source of funding for the Marine Mammal Research Program. Senior Marine Mammal Research Scientist Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard took over the program in 2001. Funds raised through the program mainly support research on wild killer whales, but also includes other marine mammals that killer whales interact with – and sometimes prey on – in their marine environment. Killer whales in B.C. are listed as either endangered or threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Learning everything we can about them is paramount to ensure the best standards and regulations are set to protect them.

Our parent institution, Ocean Wise (formerly the Vancouver Aquarium), is a non-profit conservation organization. This means that our research projects – such as the photogrammetry study and our genetics research – rely on grants, donations and our fundraising program, the Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program. Funds raised through the Adoption Program directly help to offset these costs. A substantial portion of the funds goes towards the Marine Mammal Research Program’s annual killer whale field research and analyzing DNA samples in our Conservation Genetics Lab. 


An adoption in the Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program directly helps to offset these costs and make research possible. Download a copy of our BROCHURE.


How will my adoption help wild killer whales? 

Learning everything we can about killer whales is the best way to protect them. 

Some of the projects funded by the program include:

Monitoring Health: Since 2014, Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard and his colleagues Drs. John Durban (NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Centre) and Holly Fearnbach (SR3 – Sealife Response, Rehabilitation and Research) have been using a hexacopter drone to take high-resolution aerial photographs of killer whales. From these photos, photogrammetric measurements, such as body length and shape, are used to document the changes in the body condition and nutritional status of fish-eating resident killer whales in relation to fluctuations in salmon abundance.

Population Genetics: We are using DNA analysis to answer questions like how do Bigg's (transient) killer whales avoid inbreeding and how do female killer whales know how to choose a mate.

Photo-Identification: Photo-identification is one of the most useful tools of whale biologists. It is an invaluable method of monitoring the health of B.C.'s killer whale populations.

Acoustics: Killer whales rely on sound to communicate, navigate and detect their prey. Underwater noise is one of the major threats that killer whales face, as vessel traffic masks these important vocalizations. One of the ways we are mitigating the impacts of underwater noise on killer whales is by developing a consistent method for measuring the types of noise that negatively affect them.

Marine Mammal Conservation: Read about many of the research and conservation projects sponsored by the Adoption Program in back issues of our annual research newsletter, the Blackfish Sounder. In the 2007 edition, for example, you'll find details of an international conference on fisheries depredation (whales stealing fish from fishing gear) by killer whales and sperm whales, and research into the causes of a massive sea otter decline in Alaska.