Since the 1970s, I have worked in collaboration with a variety of students and colleagues in a long-term study of the identification, social organization, and life history of killer whales. Much of my research and that of my students has involved the function of underwater acoustic signals in social communication of killer whales, the identification and description of group-specific vocal dialects, and interpretations of these dialects to yield insights into the historical social evolution of the populations. More recently, my studies have focused on the foraging specializations of fish-eating ‘resident’ killer whales, which prey selectively on Chinook salmon. Despite the high trophic level of this predator, resident killer whales may be dependent on Chinook salmon and abundance of this prey species may have a direct effect on their survival. With my recent MSc student Brianna Wright, I am studying the underwater diving behaviour of resident killer whales to better understand how they locate, pursue and catch their primary prey, Chinook salmon.
Since 2001, when I joined the Pacific Biological Station as head of the Cetacean Research Program, my studies have broadened to include assessment of the conservation status of marine mammals and turtles off the Pacific coast that are listed under Canada’s Species-at-Risk Act. These species include the North Pacific right whale, blue whale, sei whale, fin whale, humpback whale, sea otter and leatherback turtle. With my MSc student Barbara Koot, I am examining the underwater acoustics of cetaceans, particularly fin whales, off the BC coast using a network of autonomous underwater acoustic recording instruments deployed on the seafloor (see http://www.marinemammal.org/MMRU2/personnel/barbara-koot/ ). Details on other activities of the Cetacean Research Program can be seen at http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/science/species-especes/cetacean-cetaces/index-eng.htm
Note to prospective graduate students: Because I am based on Vancouver Island, I am only able to supervise one or two graduate students at a time due to logistical constraints. Also, I can only take on students who are fully supported with a scholarship or similar form of external funding, and generally only accept students who have field research experience with marine mammals.