Turning the Tide: Adventures in whale conservation

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 9:00pm

Within the next week, I will be finding myself on a larger island in British Columbia, collecting field research on killer whales with whale researcher Troy Bright. On this island, the Northern Resident killer whale pod is known to rub their skin on the island’s smooth pebbles, one of the few places in the world where killer whales come close to land. Attracted to the smoothness of the pebbles towards their skin, this tradition is believed to be passed on as a cultural rite of passage amongst this pod. Troy Bright, the research director in these studies, has been studying these patterns for the past 22 years.

Over the years, Bright has set up a camp on this particular beach on Malcolm Island, to research the Northern Resident Orca population that frequents the area in the summer months. Originally from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Bright first came to Sointula 22 years ago, drawn to the region by the orcas that come to feed in this area every summer. While not officially trained as a scientist, Bright began conducting his own field research after first seeing orcas rubbing at Bere Point, and has spent the months of July, August, and September camped out at the beach studying and recording the whale activity there every summer since.

Under Bright’s direction, I will be collecting field research through photo-identifications, hydrophone recordings, and by observing behaviors on the water. Photo-identification of these whales can be traced through the markings and patterns on their dorsal fins, flukes and any scratches or rake marks found on their skin. By photo-identifying these killer whales, Bright can track each mammal, their migration patterns and behaviors. Hydrophone recordings are microphones designed to record underwater noises and communication calls from marine mammals. Underwater recordings can help scientists gather a closer look at the call patterns shared amongst each pod (killer whale pods are known to create their own dialects that are different from other pods’ communications).

I am very excited to begin this marine-based journey, and hope to inspire other like-minded individuals in conserving our environments and to educate our audiences through the opportunities and resources made available. I will be in British Columbia for a few weeks, and will jump over to Iceland to begin my second trip in whale conservation.