By becoming a member of the 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....

Northern Residents

Where are the Northern Residents?

That's the big question that researchers are asking right know. Members of the northern resident population have not been seen in Johnstone Strait since a brief encounter in April. Research colleagues working around Queen Charlotte Island and Langara Island did not see any killer whales this spring and there have only been a couple sparse sightings along the BC's remote central coast. There are still killer whales around though, and sightings of transients in the area have noticeably increased. 


We have three sightings of northern residents to report.  On April 23rd and 25th all of A5 pod which includes the A8, A23 and A25 matrilines, were seen in Desolation Sound.  On June 4th and 5th the A36s [Plumper (A37) and Kaikash (A42)] were seen traveling with Scimitar (A12) in Douglas Channel near Kitimat on the remote northern BC coast.  On June 10th four whales from A4 pod, Yakat (A11), Springer (A73), Nahwitti (A56) and her calf A97, were seen by Vancouver Aquarium researchers at the mouth of Smith Inlet on BC's remote central coast. The whales were spread out and appeared to be foraging, although it was unclear what they were feeding on. 



Southern Residents

J pod has been seen around the Salish Sea (new designation that encompasses Georgia Strait, Juan de Fuca Strait and Puget Sound) this May and early June; however similar to the northern residents, they have been seen less regularly than in the past few years.  J pod was seen daily for two weeks in May, May 9th - May 21st, than they were not seen again in the Salish Sea until June 7th but have been around for about a week now. 

L pod made a brief visit to the Salish Sea on May 29th after they were tracked coming around the north end of Vancouver Island and traveled south down the east side of Vancouver Island into the Salish Sea. On May 28th they caught researchers at OrcaLab off guard when they heard unfamiliar whale calls on their hydrophone at 1:30am in the morning. The whales travelled east into Johnstone Strait, stopped in Robson Bight for a couple hours and then continued east down Johnstone Strait. That evening they were seen again off Campbell River and the following evening they showed up in Haro Strait between Vancouver Island and San Juan Island.  The whales were traveling quickly at this point and headed west right back out Juan de Fuca Strait.  L pod showed up again briefly in the Salish Sea on June 7th and June 10th.    




Transients everywhere!

On May 16th a group of 37 transient killer whales was seen in Blackney Pass near Hanson Island.  This is the greatest number of transients seen together in British Columbia since research began in the 1970's!  The group contained the T18, T19s, T20, T21, T36s, T46s, T100s, T101s, T22, T123s, T124s, T124As and T137s. Earlier in the month on May 12th Pandora (T21), Kwatsi (T20), Esperanza (T18), Mooya (T19), Galiano (T19B) and Spouter (T19C) were also seen as part of a group of 22 transients that traveled past Galiano Island, thru Active Pass and into the Strait of Georgia.  After the encounter in Blackney Pass, the T18 and T21 groups were seen again in the Salish Sea on May 22nd through May 30th. They were not consistently traveling together but regularly joined up with other groups of transients in the area.


Langara (T10) and her family, Siwash (T10B) and Bones (T10C), have also been seen near the north and south end of Vancouver Island in May.  On May 22nd and May 26th the T10 group was seen traveling with the T26 group in Haro Strait. On May 29th the T10s and T26s were seen again, this time traveling westbound in Johnstone Strait about 400km away from where they were seen three days earlier. 


June 2011
In this issue

 Whale Update
 Field Notes
 In the News 




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Field Notes....

A start to the 2011 field season!


The Vancouver Aquarium Cetacean (Whale & Dolphin) Research boat ‘Skana’ has been cleaned, polished and tuned up for the summer field season.  With cameras and hydrophones ready the research team was anxious to get out on the water.  A large number of Pacific white-sided dolphins in Howe Sound this spring provided a perfect opportunity to run the boat and make sure everything was working, but the real field work with the killer whales occurs along the waters of the Great Bear Rainforest on BC’s remote central coast.

Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard got a jump start on the field season this year – starting almost six weeks earlier than last year.  At the end of May Lance moved the boat from Vancouver up to the north end of Vancouver Island so it was accessible to BC remote central coast.  On the second day out Lance and research assistant Meghan encountered a group of killer whales in Johnstone Strait.   It was a group of five transients, quickly identified as T10, T10B, T10C, T26 and T26A.  The transients were slowly traveling west taking shallow dives with lots of surface time and easy to follow and photograph.  The whales even stopped and rested at the surface, a waiting behavior that is characteristic of transients.

Marine mammal field studies vary greatly depending on the project of the day, the weather and the animals that happen to be present on any given day.  On the initial field trip, Lance and Meghan had one encounter with killer whales; however, they also photographed and recorded a group of approximately 40 Pacific white-sided dolphins in Burke Channel, photographed and recorded humpback whales in Fitzhugh Sound and recorded several harbour porpoises and Dalls porpoises along the coast.   As the season gets underway, Lance will be helping colleagues with Fisheries and Oceans Canada continue the annual photo-identification survey that is essential for monitoring the health and status of BC killer whales and help better understand the ecological role of cetaceans in BC.





Return of Springer

As noted in the northern resident section above, BC’s most famous whale, Springer (A73) has survived another winter.  When seen on June 10 by Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, she appeared strong and healthy…a far cry from her condition in early 2002 when she was discovered off the Seattle waterfront  orphaned, alone, malnourished and infested with parasites.  Her rescue, rehabilitation, transport home to British Columbia, release and reintegration with her relatives were covered by the world media for months.   Lance was one of a group of experts from the Vancouver Aquarium, NOAA, OrcaLab, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada that assisted with the rescue, so it was especially gratifying for him to see her alive and well nine years after her ordeal.




In the News....

Transients visit Stanley Park

On the early morning of May 11th, 2011, individuals along the Stanley Park seawall were treated to a rare sight - a group of killer whales made a surprise visit to Vancouver's Inner Harbour. The whales, later identified by Dr. John Ford and David Ellifrit from observer photos, were a group of transient killer whales.

Photo: Dave Price

Transient killer whales are of the mammal eating assemblage. It is fairly rare to see killer whales in such a busy harbour, but there is no shortage of harbour seals all the way up Indian Arm to attract them. There are about 300 transient killer whales along the west coast that have been identified by photo-identification. Three individuals from the group were identified from the catalogue; T102, a male born in 1984, T101B, a female born in 1997 and T123A, a male born in 2001.

Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard and his team responded to the sighting by taking the research boat out to find and document the whales.  Unfortunately by the time they received the sighting information, it was a cold trail and they were not able to find the whales. A friendly reminder that if you see a whale, dolphin or porpoise to please report your sightings to the BC Cetacean Sightings Network via phone 1-866-A-SAW-ONE (472-9663), email at [email protected] or via their website at

News article:  Vancouver Sun  _________________________________________________________

Canuck Fever - A five-ton good luck charm for Vancouver's Hockey Team


As the Vancouver Canucks prepared for game two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Vancouver Aquarium showed its support by offering the team a five-ton good luck charm. A 11-year old killer whale, known by his scientific number T123A, was one of a group of transient killer whales that ventured under the Lions Gate Bridge and around Stanley Park on May 11, 2011, just a stone's throw away from the Aquarium.  It seemed fitting to name him Stanley, since he'd appeared so close to Vancouver's famous park.

Visits by killer whales to Vancouver’s inner harbour are rare - about once every three years.  Even though the whales didn’t stay very long, their arrival seemed like a good sign for British Columbia’s beloved hockey team, whose mascot is also a killer whale.   The Canucks proved their mascot was well suited for the team given they had just beat the Nashville Predators in the second playoff round.  Killer whales are, after all, top predators in the ocean food chain.    While decades of study have provided many insights into the lives of killer whales, they have also illustrated how much remains to be learned. “Over the years – and among various topics – research work has led us to discover that killer whales are picky eaters.  For instance, offshore killer whales, just like the Canucks, proved recently that they had a real appetite for sharks,” says Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, senior researcher. “We know as well that orcas travel in close-knit family units, which we feel describe the Canucks team spirit perfectly.”

Stanley (T123A) and his family T123 and T123B will become available for adoption the week of June 20, 2011 after the Stanley Cup Playoffs are finished.

News article: Vancouver Sun 


photo: Ken Balcomb_Center for Whale Research


Changes to US whale viewing guidelines for boaters

Boaters venturing into the waters of Washington State this summer need to be aware that whale watching south of the border will be conducted a little differently now.  On May 16, 2011 new rules on how both commercial and recreational vessels are to conduct themselves around killer whales came into effect.  NOAA, the American equivalent of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), hopes these amended rules will further help safeguard the endangered southern resident killer whales that spend much of the summer in the inland waters of Washington State and British Columbia.

NOAA’s new regulations double the distance that vessels can approach and view whales from.  Boats are now required to keep 200 yards (182.88 m) from the whales.  The rules also forbid vessels from intercepting a whale or positioning a vessel in the whales’ path-keeping with the current ‘Be Whale Wise’ guidelines.  These rules apply to all types of boats, including motor boats, sail boats and kayaks, in Washington’s inland waters.

The guidelines in B.C. waters will remain the same for now, with the approach and viewing distance of 100m.  To read the complete ‘Be Whale Wise’ guidelines for Canadian waters, click here.  Of course, Canadian boats venturing into Washington State waters needs to be aware and follow the amended regulations across the border.  Learn more about the American rules here.

Reducing disturbance from vessels has been highlighted as an important step in protecting these vulnerable animals.  Resident killer whales rely heavily on sound to find food (echolocation) and communicate.  Noise from vessels may impact their ability to forage, socialize, and navigate.  Vessel strikes are also of concern.  By whale watching safely and respectfully - and by following the regulations and guidelines in each jurisdiction - boaters can participate in whale viewing while minimizing their impact.