Project

BC Whales

Species
  • Marine Mammals
Years funded
  • 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020
Status
  • Active
Project type
  • Research
Description
BC Whales

Janie Wray

Project leader
About the project leader

It was at the age of nine that I first heard a recording of a humpback whale singing. Instantly I was both captivated and extremely curious. This was my first emotional response to sound, and the inspiration that led to a life-long commitment to understanding the behaviour of whales. After I graduated, my dream was to work with like-minded people and build a marine research station, off grid, in an area where whales thrive and the presence and impact of people are minimal. Like the whales, I am constantly migrating from one region of British Columbia to the other, following...

PROJECT LOCATION : British Columbia, Canada
Related Blogs
By Janie Wray, 10th September 2020
Getting ready for whales
So it beings once again. We have arrived back on Fin Island, our most remote whale research station that BC Whales operates in partnership with the Gitga’at First Nation of Hartley Bay and WWF-Canada along the north coast of BC. Similar with many, we had…
By Eric Keen, 27th July 2020
Fjordic Fin Whales
Working within  Gitga’at First Nations territory is an incredible privilege for many reasons, but the thing that hooked me when I first came here a decade ago was the fin whales. The fin whale is an extraordinary species: the second largest animal on earth (ever),…
By Megan Hockin-Bennett, 29th January 2020
The A30 orca family
Megan has worked with both BC Whales and Orcalab since 2012. She now manages one of the camps for Orcalab with a focus on outreach and video projects. It’s around 5 am when I begin to stir. The faint sounds of the resident orca family…
By Éadin O’Mahony, 5th November 2019
Whale snot for conservation
As whale researchers, often we dream of having some form of x-ray vision superpower to be able to see fully the whales in their hidden world under the waves – and although we haven’t quite yet achieved superpowers (!) it is truly astounding how much…
By Éadin O’Mahony, 29th August 2019
Whales and Drones: A New Perspective
I’m stumbling down the trail of the forest as fast as I can, pulling a woolen jumper over my head and wiping the last of the sleep from my eyes. It’s 05:30 AM and I’ve been ripped from a dream by the exploding sound of…
By Janie Wray, 8th July 2019
The Season Begins
Our journey to Fin Whale Research Station began on a 12-hour ferry from Port Hardy B.C, the ride up was rocky at best, with a wind strength approaching 40 knots. With all the cabins taken, we spent the night camped out at the bow of…
Project details
Key objective

The overarching objective of our long-term scientific monitoring of recovering whale populations along the coast of British Columbia is to combine various novel scientific methods in order to expand our understanding of the cetacean populations that actively use these waters. By means of a powerful fusion between deep First Nation knowledge of coastal ecology and the work of local and international researchers, the BC Whales team is determined to develop a platform of partnerships to successfully protect marine habitat for whales.

Why is this important

As the human impact on our blue planet now reaches even the deepest oceans, this is the critical point in time when we must work tirelessly to protect the last remaining areas of thriving wilderness. The coastal waters of British Columbia harbour both threatened and recovering populations of orca, humpback and fin whales. The outcomes of this project increase the research community’s capacity to manage and protect cetaceans, as well as provide up-to-date information that can be applied to the management of numerous industrial development plans and other human ocean-based activities that place these species at risk.

Background

The North Coast Cetacean Society (NCCS), a non-profit organisation, has been actively protecting cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) along the coast of northern British Columbia, Canada, since 2001. We have built two remote whale research stations and established a hydrophone (underwater microphone) network that enables us to monitor the submarine world of whales. In 2017 the NCCS established BC Whales, a team of individuals from diverse backgrounds who are dedicated to protecting whale populations by conducting extensive scientific research and merging it with local First Nation knowledge. We believe that partnerships are essential if we are to gain an understanding of the movement of whales, their social connections with one another and their relationship to their environment. Also essential is our hydrophone network, which enables us to learn more about the acoustic tradition of whales and the overlap in habitat use by different populations, as well as monitor the increasing levels of ambient noise, which could have detrimental consequences for these whales that rely heavily on sound to survive.

We have documented the dramatic return of humpback whales to the entire coast of British Columbia. This species was rarely, if ever, encountered along the coast after the late 1960s because it was extensively hunted. Now we see humpbacks on a daily basis during the field season (May–October) as they feed on krill and herring in these nutrient-rich waters. Thanks to this abundance we have been able to gain valuable insights into the social behaviour and habitat use of this robust cetacean.

The fin whale is the second largest mammal on the planet (trumped only by the blue whale) and it has also returned to these waters, with the first sighting for decades in 2006. Three distinct orca populations – resident, transient and offshore – live along the coast of British Columbia and each has a unique social structure and dialect. We document these carefully via the hydrophone network and visual surveys.

All three of these species are the subjects of our ongoing research projects, which are conducted acoustically, visually (from land and boat) and by drones. The drone project, which launched in May 2019, aims to give a bird’s-eye view of the whales’ social behaviour while also delving into both genetics and the use of 2D imagery to answer important ecological questions.

Aims & objectives
  • Whale trails: we have developed a technique that enables us to localise the acoustic calls of whales so that we get a better understanding of their movement patterns and habitat use and the impact of ambient noise on the cetaceans.
  • Land-based whale monitoring: surveys from three land-based platforms enable us to better understand cetacean abundance and behaviour in these three key locations and help us to identify critical habitat for humpback and fin whales.
  • Boat-based whale surveys: marine surveys help us to determine habitat hotspots and the seasonal patterns of the cetaceans.
  • Humpback whale catalogue: in partnership with First Nation communities and local researchers we are developing a catalogue of humpback whales throughout British Columbia by identifying individuals seen along the coast by their flukes (tails).
  • Drone project: the use of drones enables us to identify the genetic origins of humpback whales and thus link the research area’s whales with the locations they migrate to for breeding; to monitor their feeding and their recovery from fasting in their breeding grounds; to determine patterns of relatedness between feeding groups of humpback whales; and to establish the incidence of pregnancy and post-partum recovery.
  • Outreach and awareness: by increasing outreach and awareness of British Columbia’s whale populations we promote the protection of these gentle giants of the sea.