The Vancouver Aquarium’s B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network relies on reports from the public to better understand the occurrence and distribution of whales, dolphins, porpoises and sea turtles in B.C. waters. While all sightings are important in this regard, it’s always exciting to get a “real time” report. If the sighting is close by our home base at the Vancouver Aquarium, we may even take the opportunity to head out into the water to gather additional information. In early November 2012, we received an exciting “real time” report from a ferry crew member of a group of approximately 300 Pacific white-sided dolphins in the nearby Strait of Georgia. We hopped onto our research vessel, called Skana, to investigate.
During an encounter, we have several goals we want to achieve. For many species, our primary goal is to gather identification photos. We also want to collect acoustic recordings and prey samples when possible. In the case of an unusual species or an animal in an unusual location (like a grey whale in False Creek!), we may want assess the health of the animals or confirm species identification.
Identification photos are collected during these investigations to help determine movement patterns, seasonality and population estimates. These photos allow researchers to identify how often, where and when individual animals are sighted.
We also collect acoustic recordings, if the animals are being vocal. During this particular encounter with the Pacific white-sided dolphins, we were greeted with a cacophony of buzzing echolocation and squeaky calls as soon as we dropped the hydrophone. This data will be added to a larger collection of knowledge that can be used to better describe the vocal repertoire and behaviour of the dolphins.
Diet samples are collected if the dolphins are feeding. Usually the only leftovers from a dolphin meal are a few floating fish scales on the surface that can be scooped using a fine mesh net. Any samples collected can be sent to researchers, who can determine what the dolphins were feeding on without seeing the entire fish. Unfortunately, no surface scales were spotted during this encounter.
You can contribute to the collection of data and research of dolphins and other cetaceans by contacting us with “real-time” sightings, or reports of past encounters with the animals. We’re not picky about the reports we receive – we appreciate and welcome any type of sightings reports, even if they are from a few years ago! If you spot a cetacean, please call us toll free at 1-866-I SAW ONE (1-866-472-9663), or via email at [email protected]. For more information on the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network, please visit this page.