Dr. Fearnbach arrives in Vancouver Island to study the Northern Resident killer whales

Dr. Holly Fearnbach, SR3's killer whale expert, has arrived in Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, to start the fourth year of aerial photogrammetry research on the Northern Resident killer whale population. Holly will partner with colleagues Drs. John Durban (NOAA, Southwest Fisheries Science Center) and Lance Barrett-Lennard (Ocean Wise) to monitor the health of the population as part of a comparative study to the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population (field work on this population to recommence in September). The team will use an unmanned hexacopter to collect vertical images of individual whales that will be used to monitor growth and body condition, in order to evaluate nutritional and reproductive status.

Changes in the health of both populations will be related to the availability of their primary prey, Chinook salmon, to support management actions in both the US and Canada to ensure an adequate food supply. The team will also continue data collection as part of an ongoing project to assess the health of humpback whales on different feeding grounds. They will use the same unmanned hexacopter to collect both vertical images and whale blow exhalate from individual humpback whales; images will be analyzed to evaluate body condition and blow samples will be analyzed to describe respiratory microorgnanisms.

Overhead image of the I16 matriline of the Northern Resident killer whale population in 2014. Aerial images were taken using an unmanned hexacopter at an altitude of >100ft above the whale, with a Special Flight Operations Certificate from Transport Canada. Research approaches by both the boat and hexacopter were authorized by Research License issued by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2014-5 SARA-327). Credit: Durban, Fearnbach, Barrett-Lennard; NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Vancouver Aquarium.

Overhead image of the I16 matriline of the Northern Resident killer whale population in 2014. Aerial images were taken using an unmanned hexacopter at an altitude of >100ft above the whale, with a Special Flight Operations Certificate from Transport Canada.
Research approaches by both the boat and hexacopter were authorized by Research License issued by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2014-5 SARA-327). Credit: Durban, Fearnbach, Barrett-Lennard; NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Vancouver Aquarium.