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Welcome to the first issue of Whale News, the E-mail newsletter of the BC Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program. This bi-monthly newsletter contains updates and sightings of killer whales along the B.C. coast and interesting news or stories from the field. To unsubscribe to the email list please send an email to [email protected].



Whale Update....

Northern Residents

Goletas (I13) has a new calf! Members of G-clan were seen and heard several times the last week of January around Blackfish Sound (just north of Johnstone Strait) and Queen Charlotte Strait. It was the I11 a matriline and during one of these encounters it was discovered that Goletas (I13) has a new calf.

Nodales (A51) also has a new calf! On January 10th members of the A4 and A5 pod were seen in the Johnstone Strait area. The A11, A23, A24 and A25 matrilines were all there. Several individual whales were identified in the large group including Skagit (A35), Springer (A73), Magin (A71), Fife (A60) and Nodales (A51) with her young calf A98. 


Southern Residents

Members of J and K pod were seen regularly in Haro Strait and along San Juan Island in January.  All of K pod was around in early January traveling with some members of J pod including Granny (J2), Spieden (J8), Shachi (J19) and Eclipse (J42). Near the end of January J and K pod were seen again. This time it was the J11 [Blackberry J27, Tsuchi J31 and Mako J39], J17 [Princess Angeline J17, Polaris J28, Tahlequah J35 and their three calves], and J22 matrilines. Only four whales in K pod were present including Cappuccino (K21) and Raggedy (J40).

There is a new calf, L117, in L pod but some confusion as to who the mother is. On December 6, 2010 a new calf was seen swimming with Tanya (L5); however, Tanya hasn't had a calf since 1986 so it is unlikely the calf is hers. Researchers have witnessed several occasions where a new calf was seen traveling with a post-reproductive female but the calf actually belongs to another female. Possible mothers are L54 and L90, but Racer (L72) and her young son Fluke (L105) were also intermittently swimming near the calf. 


There have been many reports of transient killer whales along the BC coast in January. The calls of many transients were heard in Blackfish Sound, although few specific individuals were identified. Pender (T14) was in Johnstone Strait in early January. The T19 group, Mooya (T19), Galiano (T19B) and Spouter (T19C), were seen in Blackfish Sound early December. A bit more south, Pandora (T20) and Kwatsi (T21) were seen off the Victoria waterfront on January 25th. 


February 2011
In this issue

 Whale Update
 Field Notes
 In the News 




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Field Notes....

Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins!

The BC Cetacean Sightings Network is excited to report an unusual visitor around Vancouver over the past year - Pacific white-sided dolphins! A large group has been spotted repeatedly in the nearby waters of Howe Sound, the lower Sunshine Coast and in the Strait of Georgia.

This species of dolphin was once thought of as a primarily open-ocean species, but in the early 1980s began to appear in more coastal waters especially around the Central Coast and northern Vancouver Island. Over the past decade they have been spotted further south more regularly. In 2010 they were almost in the Vancouver Aquarium's backyard when they were spotted off Point Atkinson near Horseshoe Bay and at the mouth of Howe Sound!

Aquarium researchers collaborating with colleagues at UBC and DFO hope to study these animals over the coming year to learn more about them. What are they eating? Is it always the same animals in the group? How often are they present? To help answer some of these questions, the BC Cetacean Sightings Network (BCCSN) would like to encourage people to report what they see.

Many sightings are coming from ferry passengers, so next time you are traveling to the Sunshine Coast, Bowen Island or over to Vancouver Island make sure to keep your eyes peeled while you cruise.  Sightings of dolphins can be reported to BCCSN at, by email to [email protected], or by phone at 1-866-I-SAW-ONE.


In the News....

Killer whales  that store their prey

New groundbreaking research has revealed fascinating insight into the feeding and foraging behaviours of killer whales. The four year study - conducted by Vancouver Aquarium research scientist Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard and a team of colleagues - documented grey whale predation by killer whales near Unimak Island, Alaska.

"Whalers have known for centuries that killer whales can hunt, kill and consume whale species far larger than themselves," said Barrett-Lennard. "But such events are seen and reported rarely, and it's been hard to determine how common it is, how the killer whales manage such a feat, and what the impact might be on prey populations."

The research team discovered a group of over 150 transient killer whales that gather every spring near Unimak Island, Alaska when grey whales are heading north on their annual migrations. During that time these killer whales feed exclusively on grey whale calves and yearlings. After an initial feeding the killer whales left the kill site for 24 hours or more and later returned to feed again on the carcass. The grey whales killed by killer whales proved also to be an important food source for other predators in the area including Alaskan brown bears and sleeper sharks.

This study is the first to report killer whales feeding principally or entirely on grey whales for extended periods of time and to describe killer whales leaving the remains of prey that they have killed and later returning to feed on them.  Dr. Barrett-Lennard and his team estimate that transient killer whales may take up to a third of the calves born to the Eastern Pacific grey whale population each year. Through these direct observations, researchers have begun to recognize the dramatic impact killer whales have on other aquatic life. This not only includes major impacts on the size and behaviour of prey populations, but also on the size and distribution of populations of scavengers such as sleeper sharks and brown bears.

Read the full story

News Article:  Vancouver Sun   



Offshore killer whales like the taste of shark

A landmark study released in January provides evidence for something researchers had long speculated. Offshore killer whales in B.C. are specialists at killing sharks. "It's exciting, it's been a detective hunt for so long," said Dr. John Ford, lead author of the study and senior research scientist with the federal Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo. "For so many years we've been pondering on what these offshore killer whales feed on."

As the name implies, offshore killer whales are typically found in waters off the outer continental shelf which makes them hard to study and thus their diet has remained largely a mystery. Offshores often travel in large groups of 50 or more individuals and are highly vocal, suggesting they do not feed on marine mammals. Researchers suspected that offshores were potentially feeding on halibut, salmon shark, spiny dog fish and possibly skates and rays. Another mystery was the extreme tooth wear in these killer whales.

This study represents the first confirmed prey species of offshore killer whales based on field observations of foraging whales and the first record of any shark species in the prey of BC killer whales. Ford and colleagues had two separate encounters with foraging offshores. DNA analysis of the prey samples collected in the field identified the prey species as Pacific sleeper shark. The tissue samples determined that a minimum of 16 individual sharks were consumed by the offshores in these two encounters. The abrasive skin of the shark appears to be causing the tooth wear in this killer whale population.

Almost 300 offshore killer whales have been photo-identified in B.C. Researchers are now keen to determine if offshore killer whales are as specialized ecologcailly as resident and transient killer whales and whether sharks play a dominant role in their diet.

News article: Vancouver Sun