Industry and non-profit are joining forces to study and protect BC’s iconic whale species. LNG Canada has committed $750,000 over three years to support the expansion of Ocean Wise’s North Coast killer whale and humpback whale conservation research programs and deliver ocean literacy programs to Kitimat and Terrace-area schools.
Ocean Wise researchers have been investigating the abundance, site fidelity and habitat requirements of North Coast cetaceans since 2014. This work is also supported by funding from the Port of Prince Rupert and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Program highlights include:
• Surveys of the relative abundance and distribution of cetacean species in the Chatham Sound region, including the collection of environmental DNA.
• Drone-based aerial photogrammetry to assess the body condition of humpback and killer whales.
• North Coast implementation of Ocean Wise’s Whale Report Alert System, a real-time alert system informing commercial mariners aboard large vessels of nearby whales enabling them to take action to reduce the risk of collision or disturbance.
• Promotion of BC Cetacean Sightings Network, and the Whale Report App, to communities along the North Coast.
• Work with local educators, Indigenous leaders, school boards, researchers and community leaders on ocean literacy programs specific to students in the Kitimat and Terrace regions, including a National Dialogue connecting northwest B.C. students with their peers from across the country for a multi-week program.
“Humpback whales and killer whales are among the most iconic species of the North Coast region but their populations are susceptible to threats such as prey availability, underwater noise and physical disturbance, and contaminants,” said Karina Dracott, Research Manager of the North Coast Cetacean Research Initiative at Ocean Wise. “By addressing critical knowledge gaps and through solutions-oriented research and education we hope to help support B.C.’s North Coast communities and industry with the knowledge and skills necessary to protect critical ecosystems and the iconic species that rely on them.”
“We understand the importance of marine stewardship to local and Indigenous communities in the northwest and are keen to continue our support of marine research and educational opportunities in recognition of these shared priorities,” says Denita McKnight, Director Corporate Affairs at LNG Canada. “Ocean Wise is a leader in B.C. marine research delivering science in support of healthy aquatic species and healthy oceans. We are pleased to provide funding that will expand on the important work Ocean Wise researchers are doing and help preserve the health and well-being of northwest B.C.’s coastal ecosystem.”
North Coast Cetacean Research Initiative
Ocean Wise will conduct systematic surveys of Chatham Sound and the surrounding region to assess the relative abundance and distribution of all cetacean species. Researchers will also increase the scope of humpback whale research and monitoring to shed light on this regionally important species. The latter project will allow continuous updating of Ocean Wise’s “Humpbacks of the North Coast” photo-identification catalogue which contributes data in turn to the BC Provincial Humpback Catalogue. These catalogues are invaluable tools in understanding the abundance, distribution, and demographics of the humpback whales on the BC coast. This new project will also assess the body condition of humpback whales, collect seasonal prey samples to determine diet, and explore vessel disturbance to shed light on both the health and diet of these animals in the area, and on their sensitivity to anthropogenic threats.
Ocean Wise’s ground-breaking cetacean photogrammetry research program uses aerial images collected by boat-launched drones to measure the body condition of cetaceans and assess their health and nutritional status. The program began in 2014 and to date has focused on northern and southern resident killer whales (NRKW and SRKW) in Vancouver Island waters, that included a short trial on the B.C. central coast. With LNG Canada’s support, researchers will expand this work to the north coast to include NRKW pods that are rarely seen further south. Changes in the condition of these northern pods will be related to documented changes in the abundance of their primary prey, Chinook salmon, and used to infer their health status and conservation prospects.
The Next Generation of Ocean Leaders
The Ocean Wise education team will work alongside educational and Indigenous leaders in the Kitimat and Terrace area to help create, establish, and deliver programs that will inspire the next generation of ocean leaders in the region. Focusing on three themes, the team will enhance the educational capacity of the community, deliver quality programs relevant to students living in the Northwest, and engage youth in a skill building programs so they can become the community leaders of the future.