Methods Used to Obtain Data

Boats used by Orca Survey to obtain data on the Southern Resident Community Orcas.

1. The main research vessel is High Spirits, a 37-foot trimaran.

Transient orca P1 accompanied by High Spirits

2. The second vessel is Orca, a 19-foot Boston Whaler.

Orca with orcas

Earthwatch volunteers and staff collect data in three ways:

1. Photographic Data:

Photographic documentation involves photographing all the individual whales encountered during daily vessel surveys. High speed black and white film is used in a 35mm camera equipped with a 300 mm lens. The areas to be photographed on an orca are its distinguishing features-the dorsal fin and saddle patch. To get the appropriate photograph, the orca has to be parallel to the vessel and at a distance no closer than 100-200 feet. The photographs are developed and printed at the shore-based research facility on San Juan Island. Identification of each frame is done by comparing the print with a catalogue of the members of the Southern Resident Community. The catalogue is updated annually to reflect births, deaths, matrilineal genealogies, and changes in dorsal fins or saddle patches. The photographs are also used to assess signs of poor health like sunken blowhole areas.


2. Observational data written down in logs:

While on shore or on the boat, observational logs are kept. Logs kept include:

a. Behavior log listing the behaviors and individuals doing those behaviors,

b. Boat log listing the location, number of boats, configuration of boats, and the whales' configuration, and

c. Marine mammal log listing the species seen and their location.

The data from each of these logs is entered daily into the computer using database software.


3. Acoustical data using hydrophones:

Hydrophones are used to detect when there is vocal activity and when there is this evidence, tape recordings are made for future analysis.

Home Email the Center for Whale Research