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Aerial drones offer new perspective on resident killer whale behaviour


Scientists at the University of British Columbia are getting a rare glimpse into the underwater behaviour of northern and southern resident killer whales off the B.C. coast, with the help of aerial drones.

The unique footage, filmed in collaboration with the Hakai Institute, will help researchers determine if endangered southern residents are getting enough of their preferred prey, Chinook salmon, to meet their nutritional needs. The insights will inform conservation and recovery efforts for the population that has dwindled to under 75 individuals.

“In order to help these whales, we need to know more about them – how they hunt, how they forage and where their food is,” said Andrew Trites, project lead and director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit (MMRU) at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries. “This is the first time drones have been used to study killer whale behaviour and their prey. It’s allowing us to be a fly on the wall and observe these animals undisturbed in their natural settings.” MORE

Header image: Southern Resident Killer Whale J31 and her 3 month old calf J56 near the Fraser River, British Columbia, in August 2019. The calf was observed over two days carrying a fish in her mouth – although calves only drink milk during their first year of life. Credit: Andrew Trites/University of British Columbia.

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