Visiting whales surprise researchers

4th Oct 2002 Story: www.canada.com

Whale researchers at Nanaimo's Pacific Biological Station were given a unique opportunity to study and catalogue a pod of about 50 offshore Killer Whales as they travelled in the Strait of Georgia last month.

Graeme Ellis, a biologist with the marine mammal program at the PBS, said having a pod of offshore whales -- which are usually located far offshore in waters around the Queen Charlotte Islands -- in the strait is "highly unusual."

"We don't know nearly as much about them as we do some of the resident pods, as they aren't usually close to shore," Ellis said.

"We don't know why they came inside to the Georgia Strait, but they may just be exploring some new territory. We managed to shoot around 20 roles of film of the pod and we're anxious to get the pictures back so we can study them in detail."

Ellis said the pod entered the strait through the Juan de Fuca Strait around Sept. 11 and travelled north through Dodd's Narrows as far as Quadra Island before heading back south, leaving the Strait of Georgia about Sept. 24.

He said research of the offshore whales only began in the 1980s, as their distance from shore makes them difficult to study. Few have been identified and catelogued.

"It makes our lives a lot easier when they come right up to our doorsteps," Ellis said. "Judging from the amount of boats the pod attracted in the Georgia Strait, the public was also excited to have them here."