Ways of Whales

In a blaze of alliteration, the Ways of Whales Workshop took place on Whidbey Island on January 28, 2012. Organised by the Orca Network, the workshop brought together scientists, educators, naturalists, conservation groups and the general public to learn about current research that is being conducted on the habitat, health and threats to the southern resident killer whales.

Candice Emmons from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) presented her ongoing research on the acoustics of the southern resident killer whales, using D-TAGs. The DTAG was designed by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts in 1999 to record the sounds that whales make as well as the sounds that they hear, as well as their movements for short periods of time.


Using a long pole, Candice tags the whales with the suction cupped D-Tag and follows the whale for 30 minutes, collecting fecal samples as well as recording any vessels that are within 1 kilometre of the whale. Candice’s research aims to accurately measure sound levels at the whale and any short-term changes in behaviour that result.

Jessica Lundin, from the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, has been detecting stress hormones in the southern resident killer whales through samples of their scat. Using Tucker, the famous scat detecting black labrador, Jessica collects scat samples from the killer whales, then analyses them for toxins, including OCPs, DDT, PCBs (industrial lubricants) and PBDEs (such as flame retardants).

She has gathered 2 samples so far (1 from J pod and 1 from L pod) and found that the sample from L pod had twice the level of DDT as that of J Pod. One potential explanation is that L pod has been seen off the coast of California more than J pod, where there is high agricultural run-off.

William Wilcock, a marine geophysicist from the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington, took us (metaphorically) out to the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents off the west coast of Vancouver Island to the Keck Seismic Network. Set up to monitor seismic activity around the vents, Wilcock found that while recording earthquakes on the seafloor, their sensors were also picking up fin whale calls. They were able to track the whales over periods of hours and map their direction of travel. He also found that they were picking up few calls during the summer but the calls came in thick and fast starting in the Fall and into the Winter. You can see results of his research on his website at http://gore.ocean.washington.edu/whales.html.



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