Researchers from the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) working off the north coast of Vancouver Island last weekend spotted a juvenile killer whale with an injury that may have been caused by a boat strike.
Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard — head of the Marine Mammal Research Program of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute — working alongside NOAA researchers Dr. John Durban and Dr. Holly Fearnbach, saw the whale on Saturday, Aug. 22 in Johnstone Strait with a fresh wound on its flank (side) and dorsal fin. They identified it as A95 (Fern), a six-year-old killer whale from the northern resident population. The wound appeared extensive but superficial, consistent with an injury inflicted by a propeller, and quite fresh, likely from the same morning. As they observed the whale, it was vigorous, engaged in social activity and apparently behaving normally.
The researchers were able to assess the wound and the whale’s body condition with an unmanned hexacopter, which took images that will provide a basis for follow-up assessment of the wound as it heals and the whale’s overall health. The images were taken at an altitude of greater than 100 feet above the whale, permitted in Canada under the Species at Risk Act (Marine Mammal License 18) and flight authorization from Transport Canada (SFOC #10854645).
“Although rare, incidents of boat strikes on killer whales do happen,” said Vancouver Aquarium research biologist Meghan Moore. “Twelve years ago, A95’s great uncle A60 (Fife) was spotted with a series of deep, parallel cuts on and just below the right side of his dorsal fin; we believe they were caused by a boat propeller. They’ve since healed and Fife is alive and doing well today.”
Although this wound appears superficial and is likely to heal, the injury could have been much worse, she added. Boaters are advised to remember the Be Whale Wise guidelines for operating any vessel around whales and dolphins and do not approach any closer than 100 metres.