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 Team

The Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program supports the work of the Cetacean Research Lab at the Vancouver Aquarium. Meet our team!

Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard - Head, Cetacean Research Program

Lance Barrett-Lennard's family emigrated from Australia when he was 11 years of age to settle in southern Ontario. He completed high school in Waterloo and a BSc in biology at the University of Guelph before moving to British Columbia. For the next seven years, Lance and his wife Kathy worked on lighthouses (Lawyer Island, Chatham Point and Boat Bluff) where they became fascinated by killer whales and other marine mammals. After leaving the lights, Lance worked in the marine mammal research section of the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo before beginning graduate studies in the Zoology Department at UBC. After finishing his PhD, Lance worked as a research scientist for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, until moving to the Vancouver Aquarium in 2001.

Lance has been an active collaborator in ongoing studies of the behavioural and population biology of killer whales in British Columbia and Alaska since 1984, and has also studied the species in Norway, Spain and the sub-Antarctic. A molecular geneticist, he uses DNA analysis to better understand population divisions, dispersal patterns, and mating systems. Some highlights of his research include showing that at least nine genetically discrete overlapping populations of killer whales inhabit the northeastern Pacific Ocean. He also showed that the fish-eating resident form of killer whale avoids inbreeding through an elaborate clan-based mating system. Several years ago, his findings  served as the basis for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada’s listing of southern resident killer whales as an endangered population, and more recently he co-chaired an expert panel which produced a comprehensive recovery strategy for resident killer whales.  He spends much of the spring and summer months in research boats in the coastal waters of British Columbia and Alaska. In addition to killer whales, Lance is involved in research on baleen whales, dolphins, sea otters and belugas. He also heads up the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network, located at the Vancouver Aquarium, and supervises graduate students in his capacity as adjunct professor (zoology) at the University of British ColumbiaClick here for a list of recent publications.

Meghan McKillop- Program Coordinator and Research Assistant

Meghan McKillop joined the Cetacean Research Lab in 2008 and divides her time as Program Coordinator for the BC Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program and research assistant.  In the Cetacean Research Lab Meghan coordinates a long-term study of the vocal ontogeny of belugas at the Vancouver Aquarium and assists with other onsite research and field work projects.  Meghan holds a BSc in Biology from the University of Saskatchewan and has a second diploma in Renewal Resources: Fish, Wildlife and Recreation from the BC Institute of Technology.  Before joining the Cetacean Research Lab Meghan worked for many years as a whale watch naturalist and field research technician in British Columbia.

Caitlin Birdsall- Research Assistant

Caitlin joined the Cetacean Research Lab in 2008.  Her main responsibility is coordinating the BC Cetacean Sightings Network, a project that looks at the occurrence, distribution and relative abundance of wild whales, dolphins, porpoises and sea turtles in BC waters.  She holds a BSc in Wildlife Biology and has worked previously as a field assistant, naturalist and educator in Australia and throughout British Columbia.  


Heather Lord- Research Assistant

Heather joined the Cetacean Research Lab late in 2010.  Her primary responsibilities include coordinating data and GIS analysis for the BC Cetacean Sightings Network, a project that looks at the occurrence, distribution and relative abundance of wild whales, dolphins, porpoises and sea turtles in BC waters. Before joining the Cetacean Research Lab she worked for Environment Canada performing shellfish water quality surveys and also lake sampling work to determine the critical loads of coastal BC lakes to atmospheric deposition. Heather holds a BSc in Biology from Simon Fraser University.

Allyson Miscampbell- Genetics Research Scientist

Allyson works as a research scientist at the Genetic Data Center at UBC. Since 2000 she has been analyzing DNA from tissue samples from killer whales and other marine mammals collected in the field by Lance Barrett-Lennard and his colleagues. She holds an MSc in Zoology from UBC where her previous research focused on fish parasites.