Book Now Call
Ocean Wise’s Groundbreaking Study to Reveals Winter Secrets of BC’s Iconic Whales
September 12, 2023

Ocean Wise’s Groundbreaking Study to Reveals Winter Secrets of BC’s Iconic Whales


Thanks to Prince of Whales Sponsorship and Funding

Vancouver, September 12th 2023

Images courtesy of Ashley Keegan, Ocean Wise, Sara Hysong-Shimazu. 

Ocean Wise has embarked on a groundbreaking study to unravel the mysteries of winter behavior and ecology of BC’s beloved whale populations, addressing a critical knowledge gap essential for their protection and recovery.

The Salish Sea plays host to year-round at-risk whale species, including the endangered southern resident killer whales, threatened northern resident killer whales, Bigg’s killer whales, and North Pacific humpback whales, all listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). Recent years have witnessed significant shifts in their distribution, with a notable presence in the Salish Sea during the fall and winter months.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has identified crucial gaps in data needed for   understanding year-round habitat use by these whales, especially during winter, and their diet. To address these gaps, Ocean Wise launched a pilot winter field study, supported by Prince of Whales Whale and Marine Wildlife Adventures, a longstanding marine adventure company in BC.This inaugural year of fieldwork establishes a new baseline for winter whale behavior in the Salish Sea, guiding future interventions for at-risk populations. Through the first year of study Ocean Wise: 

  • Gathered individual identification and location data from approximately 50 whale encounters.
  • Collected 64 Environmental DNA (eDNA) water samples from southern resident killer whales, Bigg’s killer whales, and humpback whales are showing promising preliminary results, shedding light on population dynamics and structure. Testing the feasibility of eDNA collection, a minimally invasive method, is vital to reduce stress on marine mammals.
  • Obtained prey samples, obtained after witnessing feeding events, from southern resident killer whales and humpback whales, providing insights into their winter diets.
  • Ocean Wise is gearing up for a second fieldwork season, scheduled between October and April, with a preliminary report to be delivered to DFO in early 2024.

“The effects of climate change are being felt around the world, including in the Salish Sea, where species that have been travelling through these waters for years are changing their behaviour. Our research provides a crucial window into winter whale activity, an underexplored realm, informing conservation efforts for their long-term health and recovery,” said Lasse Gustavsson, President and CEO of Ocean Wise, emphasizing the significance of this research.

“We are proud to support Ocean Wise’s research. Understanding winter usage of the Salish Sea allows us to implement measures that benefit resident killer whales and the salmon they rely on, ensuring their success,” says Elspeth McGillivray, General Manager of Prince of Whales – Whale and Marine Wildlife Adventures. Fieldwork was conducted under a DFO permit by Ocean Wise’s Cetacean Health and Monitoring Team aboard the research vessel “Skana.”

We are on Instagram