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.

Research Colleagues

Studying killer whales and related species is a team effort.  Collaboration is key for understanding these complex animals.  Meet some of the researchers that study wild killer whales, dolphins and other cetaceans species in the north east Pacific: 


Dr. John Ford is the Head of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the Pacific Biological Station (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) and an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia. His research has focused on killer whales since the 1970s, originally investigating their acoustic signals, communications and dialects, and more recently on their foraging specializations. In his position with DFO, Dr. Ford also focuses on the conservation status of cetaceans listed under Canada's Species-at-Risk Act and has involved population abundance estimation and development of acoustic tools for determining seasonal abundance of cetaceans in remote offshore waters. Prior to moving to his present position, Dr. Ford worked as a Research Scientist at the Vancouver Aquarium, where he started the Killer Whale Adoption Program.


Graeme Ellis has been actively involved in the long-term study of killer whales in the northeastern Pacific since 1973. Today he continues to undertake population monitoring through the use of photo-identification, including a thorough census of all killer whale groups on the BC coast each year. He is also actively involved in studying aspects of killer whale diet, distribution, genetics, and contaminant levels.



Kathy Heise began her involvement in cetacean research over 25 years ago as a lightkeeper, listening for the sounds of killer whales using a permanently-mounted hydrophone.  She returned to UBC to study the ecology of Pacific white-sided dolphins and continues to be fascinated by them. Kathy is interested in the resident dolphins in the Strait of Georgia, particularly their foraging behaviour and prey choice. As a Research Associate at the Vancouver Aquarium she working with colleagues to study how dolphins use echolocation to find and pursue prey and to detect and avoid underwater hazards such as nets. 



Dr. Volker Deeke was born in Germany and raised in Austria. He started studying biology in Berlin, but soon transferred to Vancouver where he completed a masters degree investigating the evolution of vocal dialects in resident (fish-eating) killer whales. He received his doctorate from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland focused on the vocal behaviour of transient (mammal-eating) killer whales in British Columbia and Alaska and the response of harbour seals to killer whale calls. After post-doctoral research at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Deecke returned to St. Andrews where he is currently a research fellow at the Sea Mammal Research Unit studying the behaviour of killer whales in Scottish waters. Read Volker's latest paper.

Dr. Harald Yurk specializes in cetacean acoustics, particularly the role of dialects and vocal culture on the social stability of resident killer whales in British Columbia and Alaska.  He has conducted analyses of killer whale acoustic data collected in Prince William Sound/Kenai Fjords from vessels and remote hydrophones.  One of Harald’s key scientific discoveries is the existence of distinct clans of resident killer whales in Alaska. In conjunction with photo-identification studies by Craig Matkin and colleagues and genetic studies by Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, Harald’s research also showed that these clans stem from different maternal lineages. A study that Harald concluded recently made the intriguing finding that some habitats are used by different resident killer whales clans in Alaska at different times of the year, perhaps to reduce food competition. Currently, Harald is working on a project to assess shipping noise and its potential impact on southern resident killer whales in their critical summer habitat around the south end of Vancouver Island.  




Jared Towers is a Research Technician with the Cetacean Research Program at the Pacific Biological Station (Fisheries and Oceans Canada). His primary focus is population monitoring of killer whales in the Northeast Pacific. He is also a director of the Marine Education and Research Society where further research includes population studies of minke and humpback whales in British Columbia. His other work includes collaborations regarding large whale disentanglement as well as Antarctic killer whale research.

Craig Matkin has conducted long-term research projects on killer whales in the northern Gulf of Alaska since the 1980s. Craig and his colleagues formed the North Gulf Oceanic Society, which has primarily focused on killer whale and humpback whale populations in Prince William Sound/Kenai Fjords but has also conducted multi-year projects in the Eastern Aleutian islands, Pribilof Islands, and Kodiak Island   His primary research methods include photo-identification, analysis of calls, satellite tagging, and biopsy for food habit study and genetic analysis. In 2002, Craig and Lance Barrett-Lennard began a long term study near False Pass, Alaska where over 100 transient killer whales intercept migrating gray whales each spring.


Kenneth C. Balcomb, III began the systematic survey of killer whales in Washington State in 1976 using photo-identification techniques. He has been the Executive Director and Research Biologist for the Center for Whale Research, in Friday Harbour Washington, since 1985.  Ken’s long term study of southern resident killer whales has shed much light on population dynamics and demography, social structure, and individual life histories of animals in this endangered population. Ken’s further research interests include investigating the effect of sonar on cetaceans, particularly beaked whales. 


Dr. John Durban is a Population Ecologist with the Southwest Fisheries Science Centre (NOAA).  His research focuses on the population ecology of cetaceans, including assessments of abundance and demographics using photo-identification; photogrammetric studies of individual size, growth and body condition; and analysis of movement patterns using photo-identification and satellite telemetry.  His primary investigations include the population assessment of eastern North Pacific gray whales, the ecosystem role of killer whales in the North Pacific and Antarctic, and the response of beaked whales to Navy sonar exposure.


Dr. Peter Ross is a Research Scientist with the Institute of Ocean Sciences (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) focusing on marine mammal toxicology. His primary interests include studying the effects of persistent environmental contaminants on the health of marine mammals, as well as the sources, movement and fate of persistent environmental contaminants in marine food chains.