Killer whales (photo credit: Lance Barrett-Lennard, Vancouver Aquarium)
In early December, I said good-bye to Vancouver and headed up to Prince Rupert to expand the reach of the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network (BCCSN). It’s a mouthful, I know, but the tongue-twisting moniker is an important, citizen-driven research project where people act as our eyes and ears on the sea to help the research team at the Vancouver Aquarium better understand the cetacean (whale, dolphin and porpoise) populations that frequent B.C. waters.
While the Vancouver Aquarium has been collecting data from mariners and coastal residents since the 1950s, the northern reaches of our coastline have remained uncharted territory. We hope to change that with the Vancouver Aquarium’s new North Coast Field Office located in Prince Rupert—which is where I come in.
I’m in Prince Rupert to talk to the people who live, work and play on the water of the north coast. People who can help us better understand the whale populations that spend time in those waters.
The north coast is a special area for cetaceans. Hoards of humpbacks hunt cooperatively in areas like Work Channel, large groups of porpoises can be found travelling through inland waters, and killer whales feast on the plentiful salmon runs that use the Skeena and Nass Rivers in early summer.
I am eager to hear from people that live among these animals, and to take their experiences and turn them into valuable data—data that will be used by scientists for research, conservation and environmental-assessment projects.
Learning about cetaceans in this area is particularly timely. As an increase in industry and development on the north coast unfolds, it is especially important to increase the baseline knowledge of these marine animals and to create capacity for consistent long-term monitoring of cetacean abundance and habitat use.
We hope that by providing outreach, education and training, we can engage locals in a way that the Sightings Network hasn’t been able to previously. The new North Coast initiative will be one more piece of the puzzle in the highly-collaborative field of cetacean research and conservation in this province.
If you’re a north coaster, I hope to meet you soon. If you spot a whale, dolphin, porpoise (or even a sea turtle!), report it to www.wildwhales.org. Stay tuned on our Facebook page for upcoming events and workshops or contact me at [email protected].
The B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network is a collaborative project between the Vancouver Aquarium and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Written by Caitlin Birdsall, Vancouver Aquarium coordinator, North Coast initiative.