John K.B. Ford

Adjunct Member

My research primarily involves the behavioural ecology, social dynamics and acoustic behaviour of cetaceans. Although I work with a variety of cetacean species, my main focus has been the populations of killer whales that inhabit the BC coast.

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 ). Details on other activities of the Cetacean Research Program can be seen at

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.


Marine Mammals of British Columbia
Ford, J.K.B
New insights into the northward migration route of gray whales between Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and southeastern Alaska
Marine Mammal Science 29:325-337
Ford, J.K.B., J.W. Durban, G.M. Ellis, J.R. Towers, J.F. Pilkington, L. Barrett-Lennard, and R.D. Andrews
Adaptive prolonged postreproductive life span in killer whales
Science, 337 (6100): 1313
Foster, E.A., D.W. Franks, S. Mazzi, S.K. Darden, K.C. Balcomb, J.K.B. Ford, D.P. Croft
Call diversity in North Pacific killer whale populations: implications for dialect evolution and population history
Animal Behaviour 83:595-603
Filatova, O.A., J.K.B. Ford, C.O. Matkin, L.G. Barrett-Lennard, M.A. Guzeev, A.M. Burdin, E. Hoyt, and V.B. Deecke
Cultural traditions and the evolution of reproductive isolation: ecological speciation in killer whales?
Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 106:1–17
Riesch, R., L.G. Barrett-Lennard, G.M. Ellis, J.K.B. Ford, and V.B. Deecke
Distribution and relative abundance of humpback whales in relation to environmental variables in coastal British Columbia and adjacent waters
Continental Shelf Research 36:89-104
Dalla Rosa, L., J.K.B Ford, and A.W. Trites
Ultrasonic whistles of killer whales (Orcinus orca) recorded in the North Pacific
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 132:618-621
Filatova, O., J.K.B. Ford, C.O. Matkin, L.G. Barrett-Lennard, A.M. Burdin, and E. Hoyt
Divergence of a stereotyped call in northern resident killer whales
J. Acoustical Society America 129:1067-1072
Grebner, D.M., S.E. Parks, D.L. Bradley, J.L. Miksis-Olds, D.E. Capone, and J.K.B. Ford
Humpback whale abundance in the North Pacific estimated by photographic capture-recapture with bias correction from simulation studies
Marine Mammal Science 27:793-818
Barlow, J., J. Calambokidis, E.A. Falcone, C.S. Baker, A.M. Burdin, P.J. Clapham, J.K.B. Ford, C.M. Gabriele, R. LeDuc, D.K. Mattila, T.J. Quinn II, L. Rojas-Bracho. J.M. Straley, B.L. Taylor, J. Urbán R., P.R. Wade, D. Weller, B.H. Witteveen, and M. Yama
PCB-associated changes in mRNA expression in killer whales (Orcinus orca) from the NE Pacific Ocean
Environmental Science & Technology 45: 10194-10202
Buckman, A.H., N. Veldhoen, G. Ellis, J.K.B. Ford, C.C. Helbing, and P.S. Ross