Studying killer whales in the wild is expensive work. Transportation, equipment costs, boat maintenance and fuel are just some of the many daily costs faced by researchers in the field. By taking out a membership in the BC Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program, you’ll help defray these costs and become a key partner in the killer whale research effort.

Current Research Supported by the BC Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program


The BC Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program, started in 1992 by the Vancouver Aquarium, raises funds to support research on wild killer whales. Our busy Cetacean Research Lab is situated in the Rudy North Marine Mammal Research Centre at the Vancouver Aquarium.  Personnel include our Senior Marine Mammal Research Scientist Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard; Killer Whale Adoption Program Coordinator and Research Assistant Meghan McKillop; and Research Assistants Caitlin Birdsall and Heather Lord.  Most of our research is highly collaborative and we frequently have research associates and graduate students visiting the lab.


Funds raised by the Adoption Program support conservation-oriented research on killer whales and other marine mammals. Some of the projects, activities and programs supported are listed below. 

Research on Wild Killer Whales

Long-term monitoring of killer whale populations in BC:
The longest continuous study of killer whales, a joint project with many other institutions, began in 1973. Photo-identification is at the core of the project and makes it possible to establish trends in productivity and survivorship in the face of increasing human-induced environmental changes.

Genetic Analysis:
Small tissue samples collected for DNA analysis are used to trace relationships and determine population structure and mating patterns of killer whales. Click here for more information.

North Pacific Killer Whale Project:
A joint project with the North Gulf Oceanic Society studying populations of killer whales in the northern Gulf of Alaska and eastern Aleutian Islands.  In 2002 a population of over 150 transient killer whales were discovered near Unimak Island, Alaska. Click here for more information.

Research Support

Graduate Students:
The adoption program supports a wide variety of graduate student research projects. In 2005 we expanded our mandate to include research on animals that killer whales prey on or interact with.

The Michael A. Bigg Award, instituted in 2007, celebrates the life and scientific achievements of pioneering killer whale researcher Dr. Michael Bigg (1939-1990). The Michael A. Bigg Award is given annually to a graduate student who's thesis or dissertation research focuses on cetaceans, or on the identification or conservation of cetacean habitat.

The Killer Whale Adoption Program helps send researchers to conferences and workshops to exchange scientific and conservation information with colleagues.

Visiting Scientist Program:
Established marine mammal scientists on leave from their home institutions are hosted at the Vancouver Aquarium to conduct their studies and collaborate with local researchers.