Looking for whales
Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard is the Aquarium’s cetacean scientist. Every year, he and his fellow researcher Craig Matkin (who works with the North Gulf Oceanic Society) search parts of the Alaskan coast for killer whales. He also makes similar trips in B.C., often with Fisheries and Oceans researchers Dr. John Ford and Graeme Ellis. When Lance and his colleagues find whales, they take identification photos and use a hydrophone to make underwater recordings. They also collect samples of DNA from some of the killer whales they find.
To collect DNA samples, the researchers use pencil-sized, ultra-light darts that they fire with a tranquilizer rifle. Most killer whales don’t seem to notice the dart, which simply bounces off their backs, taking a tiny bit of skin and blubber with it. Once the whale has moved away, the floating dart is retrieved and its precious contents stored for later analysis.
Lance's DNA studies have confirmed the suspicions of earlier researchers: transients and residents do not mate with each
other and pods that speak the same dialect were once
in the same family.
Lance, John, Craig and Graeme are now completing the family tree of resident killer whales. Lance is also comparing the genes of residents,
transients, offshores and killer whales from other parts of the world to learn how long they've been separated. It's possible that he and other scientists will find out that there are actually more than one killer whale species.
Want to learn more about research in BC? Check
out the Wild Whales website!