Coastal Marine Surveys

In the summer of 2017, we embarked on an extensive marine survey and conducted a comprehensive abundance study of humpback whale, fin whale, and orca populations from the Northern coast of British Columbia to North-Eastern Vancouver Island.

The data collected during this survey provided broader insight into the habitat needs of whales along the BC coast, and helped us in identifying whale “hot-spots’’ and areas of significant importance to each species.

As we traveled down the coast from Prince Rupert, we made frequent stops as we passed coastal First Nations communities including the Gitga’at community in Hartley Bay, Haisla in Kitimat, Kitasoo/Xai’xais in Klemtu, and Heiltsuk in Bella Bella. As we visited each community, our aim was to develop relationships and to support the development of First Nations led whale monitoring projects through initiatives like the Coastal Guardian Watchmen program.

Recognizing the importance of community involvement, we additionally actively engaged with students in each community, encouraging the participation of the next generation of Territorial and habitat stewards at all levels of our marine mammal surveys. We meticulously documented all whale activity within each Nations Traditional Territories during our time spent with each community before continuing our journey down the coast.

As an organization, we have relied upon marine surveys to reach the remote corners of the BC coast.

Following the success of this coast wide survey and with new partnerships formed and existing relationships strengthened, we have continued conducting marine surveys along the north and central coast of BC within the Traditional Territories of the Gitga’at, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, and Heiltsuk First Nations.

We conduct both opportunistic and systematic line-transect surveys, and at the core of this work is the collection of photographic data that is used for the individual identification of humpback whales, fin whales, and orca.

By understanding who each individual whale is, we can begin to understand population level trends and address key questions relating to the unique behaviours and cultures of whales along the BC coast.

The robust data that we collect during marine surveys supports the efforts of the Ships, Whales, and Acoustics in Gitga’at Territory (SWAG) project, the collection of environmental DNA at key locations within our research area, and supports all of our drone projects. Marine surveys allow us to dedicate special efforts towards studying bubble-net feeding behaviour in humpback whales along the north and central coast, and to investigate the profound social connections that exist within whale communities. From mother-calf bonds to relationships that span decades and transcend kinship, our research focuses heavily on the complexities and biological importance of whale social dynamics.”