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Cetacean Sightings Inform Research & Conservation
Posted on December 6, 2011
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If you hop on-board a ferry departing from Horseshoe Bay sometime soon, you might be lucky enough to spot some commotion in the waters of Howe Sound. Look closely, those whitecaps might not be made by windy weather, but by dolphins! Multiple reports of active and acrobatic Pacific white-sided dolphins have been reported in the past few weeks to the Aquarium’s B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network. If you see them, or any cetacean (whale, dolphin or porpoise) or sea turtle in B.C., let us know.

It’s not just dolphins that can be found in our waters. In fact, 23 species of cetaceans and three species of sea turtles (one new species was just added) can be found off B.C.’s coast: everything from the enormous blue whale to the petite harbour porpoise. While they may be charismatic, many cetacean species, and the threats they face, are still poorly understood. Twelve of the species or distinct populations are listed as Special Concern, Threatened, or Endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

The sheer size of our coastline means it isn’t feasible for scientists to regularly survey the entire area. To help gather information, the Vancouver Aquarium, in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, established the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network in 1999. Like many of the Aquarium’s programs, it relies on active involvement from the public to effect conservation. The Sightings Network engages British Columbians in habitat stewardship by inviting coastal residents, recreational boaters and professional mariners to record and report their cetacean and sea turtle sightings. The Sightings Network compiles, uses and shares this data to better understand the occurrence and distribution of these animals, and to inform research, conservation and recovery actions.

In total, 60,000 sightings of cetaceans and sea turtles spanning the entire length of the coast have been collected and compiled. In 2011 alone, nearly 10,000 sightings were reported. Some of our favourites this year have included the rare appearance of transient killer whales in the Burrard Inlet, two leatherback sea turtles off the west coast of Vancouver Island and the increase in reports of enormous fin whales.

Want to get involved?  Anyone can be an observer—reports can be made via:

To learn more about cetaceans, sea turtles, and their conservation in our province: Vancouver Aquarium’s B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network.


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