Satellite tagging of mammal-eating killer whales

Cascadia Research has been collaborating with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center of NOAA Fisheries, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Alaska SeaLife Center, and the Center for Whale Research, to examine movements and habitat use of mammal-eating killer whales using satellite tags.

Researcher Russ Andrews (of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Alaska SeaLife Center) and colleagues recently published a paper using remotely-deployed satellite tags to examine movements of killer whales in the Antarctic (a copy of their paper can be downloaded here), and researchers in Alaska are also using them to study movements of both fish-eating and mammal-eating killer whales. We have been using these same tags to study movements of cetaceans in Hawaiian waters (see more information here).

Mammal-eating killer whales are important top predators in the North Pacific. In recent years there has been a great deal of debate on the role these whales play in influencing their prey populations, particularly in Alaska. Understanding the movements of these animals is a critical component to assessing their influence on prey populations. Consequently, like researchers in Alaska we are deploying satellite-linked transmitters to determine whale movements. An understanding of large scale movements will compliment our time depth-recorder deployments, which provide fine scale subsurface behavior.

In September 2008 we deployed three of these tags on mammal-eating killer whales in Juan de Fuca Strait. We were able to track the daily movements of these whales for 21, 47 and 94 days, yielding new information on the extent of the range in the fall as well as detailed information on the areas they occur most frequently (see the animation below). More information on the results of the September tagging can be found at our update page for that project.