“Seeing” What Killer Whales Visualize

Decline of prey, specifically Chinook salmon, has been identified as a threat to the recovery of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population in Canada and the US. However, little is known about whether there are enough fish for them to prey upon.

Captain Dane Chauvel of Organic Ocean is assisting a group of UBC researchers in their mission to determine how many Chinook are present and how the fish are distributed in areas where increasing and decreasing populations of fish-eating killer whales travel and feed.

They are pursuing this goal using sound to visualize life beneath the surface water. The study will contribute to the recovery of Southern Resident Killer Whales by assessing the availability of prey in habitats used by killer whales.

July 18, 2019

The expedition has encountered challenging weather conditions, but they are not letting the weather get in the way of their research, even running a Conductivity-Temperature-Depth survey on a stationary vessel in the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in gale force winds.

July 20, 2019

Pictured below, PhD student Jacob Lerner is about to release a wild chinook that was sampled to estimate its lipid content, which is a measure of its total energy content.  This is important because this information will assist fisheries managers in estimating the amount of chinook that should remain in the system for among other reasons to sustain the Southern Resident Killer Whale population.

The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol have been incredibly hospitable and allowed us to spend a couple of nights in U.S. anchorages including Neah Bay where this U.S. Coast Guard patrol vessel was photographed.

July 22, 2019

July 22, 2019

The crew finally found the killer whales today.  This is a video of what they believe to be a pod of the Northern Resident Killer Whale population which range from Alaska to the Swiftsure Bank, the one and only area that overlaps with the range of the Southern Resident Killer Whales.  While they are physically similar, the NRKW and SRKW do not mix, do not interbreed, and are thought to even have different languages.

Killer whale

July 29, 2019

Chief Scientist Dr. Mei Sato holding a chinook salmon caught in Johnstone Strait by fellow scientist and PhD candidate Jacob Lerner:


Aug 01, 2019

The UBC science team of Kia Lee, Mei Sato, and Jacob Lerner (L to R) bring their research charter to a close in Alert Bay, Home of the Killer Whale.  This proved a very successful endeavour where we were able to complete hydroacoustic surveys in Juan de Fuca, Haro and Johnstone Straits, observe killer whale behaviour, and identify and sample the salmon found in the areas.


You can read more about the expedition on National Geographic