In the wake of increasing pressure on whales, Raincoast Conservation Foundation expands its capacity for research and advocacy

Two leading researchers have joined Raincoast to launch the Cetacean Conservation Research Program.

Birds eye view of a pod of killer whales.
Photo by NOAA, Ocean Wise NMFS permit 19091.

VANCOUVER, BC: Two renowned, BC based cetacean researchers have joined Raincoast Conservation Foundation to lead its new Cetacean Conservation Research Program. Drs Lance Barrett-Lennard and Valeria Vergara have over 50 combined years of cetacean research experience and have conducted field studies along the entire extent of the BC coast, the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea, Lancaster Sound, Hudson’s Bay and the St Lawrence Estuary. Both have worked in close collaboration with scientists from multiple institutions throughout their careers and will continue to do so. 

Canada is home to nearly 30 marine mammal species. The majority of these cetaceans (porpoises, dolphins and whales), were historically supported by abundant and diverse fish prey living in largely undisturbed offshore and coastal habitats. Sadly, many of these iconic species – considered by scientists to be indicators of ecosystem health – are at risk as a result of historical harvesting, a legacy of industrial pollution, reductions in their prey, and underwater noise and disturbance.

Raincoast holds a strong belief that a critical basis for mitigating threats to species at risk is acting on knowledge that is grounded in a strong understanding of species ecology. The new Cetacean Conservation Research Program will add significantly to Raincoast’s conservation science leadership in coastal British Columbia, and contribute to new Canada-wide capacity. The program will fill a niche that complements the capacities and strengths of academic, ENGO and government research programs in BC and across Canada.

The Cetacean Research Program’s initial projects will include a study examining the impact of fluctuations in salmon abundance on the body condition and health of Northern Resident killer whales and a multi-site study of beluga vocal behaviour to identify individuals, groups, and communities of female belugas acoustically. Both will build on previous work by the two scientists and use minimally-invasive lightweight drones to acquire data. Both projects will help science get ahead of the curve on key indicators of population health. 

“Setting up a new research program with Raincoast is a dream come true for me”, said Barrett-Lennard. “I envision it filling an important niche, one that complements the capacities and strengths of academic, ENGO and government research programs and gives us the ability to collect long term datasets of critical value for conservation”.

“I have followed and admired Raincoast’s exemplary and bold conservation work for years. Joining this team of like-minded, passionate individuals feels like arriving home for me,” said Vergara. “Our new program really embodies Raincoast’s core values. I can’t wait to see what we can achieve together”. 

“Between our Cetacean Research Program and the Healthy Waters Program we launched last year, I am delighted to say that Raincoast can now play a central role in finding solutions to the three main threats facing at-risk cetaceans in Canada: prey depletion, noise and disturbance, and toxic pollutants,” said Raincoast Executive Director, Chris Genovali.