Explore more at ocean.org
Page background

A Tradition Of Excellence In
Cetacean Research

Our whale and dolphin research program is widely known and respected around the world. Since 1956, our researchers have been conducting original studies of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in the wild and in captivity in order to advance our knowledge necessary to enhance environmental conservation. Much of our research would be impossible to perform in the wild and there are few opportunities for researchers, in academic or government research departments, to access captive cetaceans. We are in a unique position to study and observe aquatic life.

The Vancouver Aquarium, an Ocean Wise ® initiative, is home to thousands of incredible ocean species and amazing aquatic life. It’s also Ocean Wise headquarters, where our scientists, educators and conservation experts do their work, not only to protect our oceans but to inspire others to join us in our mission. 

Get the facts now. View our cetacean research publications

Killer Whale Photo: Lance Barrett-Lennard

Cetacean Research

Killer Whale Research icon

Killer Whale Research

We have been running the world's longest continuous study of killer whales, which includes photo identification, acoustic and DNA analysis. Our groundbreaking killer whale research is focused in three areas: ecology (how do they interact with other species?), social structure (who do they live with, who do they mate with, who are they related to?), and conservation (how are they doing, what threats do they face?)

Beluga Research icon

Beluga Research

Researching beluga whales in the Arctic Ocean is difficult, expensive and time-consuming. The Vancouver Aquarium, on the other hand, provides a place where researchers can work in a steady environment with captive whales, allowing them to study challenging topics like behaviour in greater detail. It’s also a starting place for researchers who can then continue their work in the wild.

Dolphin Research icon

Dolphin Research

Helen, the Pacific white-sided dolphin at the Vancouver Aquarium is a rescued animal that is now a serious research assistant. She's helping researchers understand how dolphins use their sonar (echolocation) to locate objects in the water. The discoveries from this study may one day help support dolphin-friendly fishing practices that will prevent dolphins from becoming entangled in nets in the future. This is an important issue, as in the wild each year over 300,000 cetaceans die as unintended bycatch after becoming entangled in fishing gear. 

Porpoise Research icon

Porpoise Research

The release of the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phoceona) Levi in the fall of 2013 was the result of on-site veterinary expertise and over 4,000 hours of dedicated care logged by staff and volunteers. But we couldn’t have done it without the hands-on skills gained through previous work with rescued porpoises Jack and Daisy. Jack and Daisy are a great example of how cetacean captivity has directly resulted in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of a wild cetacean. 

History of Killer Whales at the Aquarium icon

History of Killer Whales at the Aquarium

As long as humans have gone to the sea in boats they have been fascinated by whales. They have feared them, revered them, pursued them, loved them, hated them—about the only thing they haven’t done is been bored by them. Learn about how the Vancouver Aquarium acquired its first killer whale in 1964 and about how he, and the whales we had subsequently, fundamentally changed public attitudes towards the species.

B.C. Cetacean Sighting Network icon

B.C. Cetacean Sighting Network

The B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network is a conservation and research collaboration between the Vancouver Aquarium and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). We collect sightings of whales, dolphins, porpoises and sea turtles to better understand these populations in the wild.

North Coast Initiative icon

North Coast Initiative

The North Coast Initiative is the northern extension of our cetacean research program. Established in 2014 and based in Prince Rupert, the initiative aims to create a community-based cetacean research program in the North that allows for better long-term monitoring of an area that has previously had less intensive research than more southerly areas of the coast.

Vancouver Aquarium Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program icon

Vancouver Aquarium Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program

By adopting a killer whale and becoming a member of the Vancouver Aquarium Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program, you'll directly support research on wild killer whales. Continuing research will lead to a better understanding of the whales, their place in the ocean ecosystem and the conservation measures necessary to protect them.


Share Your Thoughts

How was your visit? Fill in our comment card and let us know.
Find it here


Donate Now

Your donation supports ocean conservation.

Did You Know?

Did You Know?

Some dolphins travel in supergroups of more than 300.
Read more