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.


Research Team

The Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program supports the work of the Marine Mammal Research Program in the Coastal Ocean Research Institute, an Ocean Wise Initiative. Meet our team!

Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard - Director, Marine Mammal Research Program

Lance Barrett-Lennard's family emigrated from Australia when he was 11 years of age to settle in southern Ontario. He completed high school in Waterloo and a BSc in biology at the University of Guelph before moving to British Columbia. For the next seven years, Lance and his wife Kathy worked on lighthouses (Lawyer Island, Chatham Point and Boat Bluff) where they became fascinated by killer whales and other marine mammals. After leaving the lights, Lance worked in the marine mammal research section of the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo before beginning graduate studies in the Zoology Department at UBC. After finishing his PhD, Lance worked as a research scientist for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, until moving to the Vancouver Aquarium in 2001.

Lance has been an active collaborator in ongoing studies of the behavioural and population biology of killer whales in British Columbia and Alaska since 1984, and has also studied the species in Norway, Spain and the sub-Antarctic. A molecular geneticist, he uses DNA analysis to better understand population divisions, dispersal patterns, and mating systems. Some highlights of his research include showing that at least nine genetically discrete overlapping populations of killer whales inhabit the northeastern Pacific Ocean. He also showed that the fish-eating resident form of killer whale avoids inbreeding through an elaborate clan-based mating system. Several years ago, his findings  served as the basis for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada’s listing of southern resident killer whales as an endangered population, and more recently he co-chaired an expert panel which produced a comprehensive recovery strategy for resident killer whales. He spends much of the spring and summer months in research boats in the coastal waters of British Columbia and Alaska. Lance's current research uses drone-based aerial photogrammetry to study relationships between prey abundance and the body condition and health of Northeast Pacific killer whales. In addition to killer whales, Lance is involved in research on baleen whales, dolphins, sea otters and belugas. He also heads up the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network, located in the Coastal Ocean Research Institute, and supervises graduate students in his capacity as adjunct professor (zoology) at the University of British Columbia. Click here for a list of recent publications.


Dr. Valeria Vergara - Arctic Marine Mammal Research Scientist

Born in Argentina, Valeria moved to Canada in 1989 to continue pursuing her passion for biology, aided by a full scholarship from the Canadian International Development Agency. Since her early years as an undergraduate she has participated in a broad range of wildlife studies, including coyotes in Montana (her B.Sc. honors thesis), grey wolves in Minnesota, red foxes in Ontario (her M.Sc. thesis), Darwin foxes in Chile, baboons in Kenya, humpback whales in Newfoundland, killer whales in Alaska, Guiana dolphins in Colombia and for the past number of years beluga whales in Canada. Valeria joined the Marine Mammal Research Program in 2002 as a graduate student, continued on as a research associate for several years, and is currently a research scientist. Her doctorate research, through the University of British Columbia, was the first to document how beluga calves develop their rich repertoires of sounds, and to identify critical calls used to maintain group cohesion and mother-calf contact. Her work has taken her to the Nelson River Estuary (Hudson Bay), the St. Lawrence River Estuary and Cunningham Inlet in the Canadian High Arctic. Her current beluga research addresses the problems these sound-centered animals face in their increasingly noisy environment. 

Carla Crossman - Molecular and Marine Biologist

Carla joined the Marine Mammal Research Program in 2014. Her main responsibility is managing our Conservation Genetics Lab, but she also assists with other ongoing research projects. Carla holds an MSc in Zoology from the University of British Columbia where she studied population structure and hybridization in harbour porpoises. Carla previously worked as a field assistant and naturalist on various projects in the United States and throughout Canada.

Jessica Torode - Coordinator, B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network

Jessica joined the Marine Mammal Research team in 2017 as coordinator of the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network – a project that collects opportunistic sightings of whales, dolphins, porpoises and sea turtles from the coast of British Columbia. Jessica was born and raised in West Vancouver and was inspired to pursue a career in marine biology after many summer boating trips in Desolation Sound. She attended the University of Victoria and graduated with a BSc in Biology in 2009. After graduation she completed a training and research internship at the Vancouver Aquarium, and then went on to work at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. Jessica moved to Scotland in 2013, where she studied the effects of commercial fishing on the diet and body condition of harbour porpoises. She also became a certified marine mammal medic, assisted with the management of a large cetacean stranding database, and volunteered with a dolphin outreach project. She completed her Masters Degree in Marine and Fisheries Ecology in September 2014.  

Caitlin Birdsall- Coordinator, North Coast Initiative

Caitlin joined the Marine Mammal Research Progam in 2008.  Her main responsibility is coordinating the North Coast Initiative, a northern node to promote and expand the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network. Established in 2014 and based in Prince Rupert, the initiative aims to create a community-based cetacean research program in the North that allows for better long-term monitoring of an area that has previously had less intensive research than more southerly areas of the coast. She holds a BSc in Wildlife Biology and has worked previously as a field assistant, naturalist and educator in Australia and throughout British Columbia.  

Chad Nordstrom - Research Assistant

Chad joined the Marine Mammal Research Program as a research assistant in late 2012. His responsibilities include leading onsite acoustic projects and supporting field-based pinniped projects in conjunction with external partners. He also manages data for the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network. Chad holds an MSc in Zoology from the University of British Columbia where he studied the links between oceanographic conditions and the at-sea foraging of northern fur seals. Before returning to grad school, Chad worked as a technician with the UBC Marine Mammal Research Unit's Stellar sea lion team and with the Canadian Wildlife Service’s polar bear program.         

Allyson Miscampbell - Genetics Research Scientist

Allyson is the senior molecular research technician at the Marine Mammal Research Program's Conservation Genetics Lab. Since 2000, she has been analyzing DNA from tissue samples from killer whales and other marine mammals collected in the field for the Marine Mammal Research team. She holds an MSc in Zoology from the University of British Columbia where her previous research focused on fish parasites.


Marie-Ana Mikus - Arctic Research Assistant

Born in France, Marie-Ana Mikus joined the Marine Mammal Research Program in 2016 as a research assistant. She divides her time between the field and the lab, assisting with the collection and acoustic analysis of field recordings of beluga whales. Marie-Ana holds an MSc in Ethology from University of Rennes in France where her previous research focused on communication in Asian small-clawed otters.

Karina Dracott - Program Coordinator and Research Assistant

Karina started as a research assistant with the Marine Mammal Research Program in 2017. Her current role is coordinating the North Coast Cetacean Research Initiative in Prince Rupert. She was born in Portland, Oregon where she grew up exploring the wild Pacific coast. She completed a BA in Geography at the University of Victoria and has studied and conducted research abroad in Sweden, Iceland, Svalbard, Uruguay and South Africa. She holds a Masters in Resource Management in Coastal and Marine Management  from the University of Akureyrei, Iceland. Her research interests involve contributing to science-based decision making in marine conservation.

Brittany Visona - Research Biologist

Brittany joined the Marine Mammal Research Program in 2017 as a research assistant and the coordinator of the Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program, before moving into her current role as a research biologist. Her responsibilities involve aiding in drone-based field research on killer whales and humpback whales, and analyzing aerial-photogrammetry images taken from the field. She holds an MSc in Marine and Fisheries Ecology from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland where she studied how the schooling behaviour of fish affect marine mammal abundance and distribution. Brittany previously worked as a cetacean field assistant in Scotland and Italy, a naturalist on whale watching vessels in the Salish Sea and a fisheries observer in Scotland and Canada.

Alannah Biega - Program Coordinator and Research Assistant

Alannah joined the Marine Mammal Research Program in 2018 as a research assistant and the coordinator of the Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program. Her responsibilities include assisting with ongoing research projects and helping with BC Cetacean Sightings Network data acquisition and management. Alannah is a graduate of Simon Fraser University, where she pursued a Masters of Science exploring the role that zoos and aquaria play in species conservation. Prior to her work with the Marine Mammal Research team, Alannah worked at Ocean Wise with The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, where she used her background in data analysis and public engagement to inspire citizens to make a positive difference in their communities by leading a cleanup at their local shoreline.

Dylan Smyth - Research Assistant 

Dylan joined the Marine Mammal Research Program in the summer of 2018 as a Research Assistant. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Alberta, Dylan spent four years working on various projects monitoring the overall health of wild juvenile Pacific salmon migrations and corresponding oceanographic conditions throughout Johnstone Strait. Between field seasons, he worked at “Orcalab”, a land-based whale research station that monitors killer whale and humpback populations 24-hours a day through an acoustic and live-video network. He now operates the lab's research vessel for the drone-based field research, as well as assists with photogrammetry data analyses and BC Cetacean Sightings Network data management.