Phone calls were immediately made to pass the historical news onto the head of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Cetacean Research Program (DFO CRP), Dr. John Ford, who was at Langara Island at the time, on a killer whale survey with fellow researcher Graeme Ellis. After much discussion, it was decided that we would focus our efforts over the next couple days on re-finding the whale.
After two futile days of searching, we were approximately 12 miles away from our original sighting when the captain yelled “right in front of us!” A whale surfaced two nautical miles in front of the ship. We veered slightly to travel towards the whale, and upon its next surfacing it was obvious this was the right whale. We found it again!
If we were in disbelief the first day, we were in utter astonishment this time. We launched the zodiac with the goal of following in the whale’s footprints as it fed in order to look for sloughed skin or to find its scat, both of which would provide incredible insight into the biology of this endangered species. After two hours of following the whale as it fed undisturbed, we came across gold. Dark, red, smelly gold. Even with the stench, I gladly scooped the scat into sample vials, knowing the immense value this sample could hold. With scat, one can get the genetics of the animal itself, learn about its parasite load, examine hormones, and determine if it is sexually mature or pregnant – a real scientific gold mine.
Afterwards, we continued to look in its footprints for sloughed off skin, but with no luck, so we took video and more photos. Determining that there wasn’t much else we could do, we headed back to the ship. We reluctantly left the whale, feeling very happy with the data we were able to collect and the effort we put into collecting it. If we didn’t find the whale again, we would have everything we needed, except a proper biopsy sample.
If finding the whale for the first time made history, finding the whale the second time was unbelievable. How could you describe finding the whale for a third time?
Guest blog post by James Pilkington, DFO Cetacean Research Program (CRP)