Researching whale acoustics

In 2012, with support from Mountain Equipment Co-op, MERS acquired a Wildlife Acoustics SM2M submersible hydrophone to record the vocalizations of minke whales while we observed them from shore. This was the first project of its kind in the North Pacific and was successful in making the first recordings of minke whale vocals in BC.

Verifying minke whale presence visually through high powered binoculars
Verifying minke whale presence through high powered binoculars.








After this project was finished we then used the SM2M to record the sounds of foraging humpback whales to help determine whether these animals were feeding at night. These data were used by MERS researcher Christie McMillan to estimate herring consumption by humpback whales as part of the first dedicated study on humpback whale diet in BC.

Humpback whale trap feeding
Humpback whales feeding







Since that deployment of the SM2M it was once again submerged. This time it was anchored to the sea floor for 9 months where it recorded whales and other marine life for 6 months. It was deployed a few miles west of habitat that has been recognized as critical to the survival of the threatened northern resident killer whale population. The data it recorded will be used to discover how often northern residents travel in and out of their critical habitat during the winter months when visual effort is greatly reduced compared to summer.

Northern Resident orca in winter
Northern Resident orca in winter







Up next, we plan to deploy this device off the west coast of northern Vancouver Island. This area is one of the most inhospitable parts of the BC coast and as a result there is little known about what species and populations of threatened and endangered whales use these waters and how often. This deployment and the last retrieval of the SM2M were conducted with our new research and response vessel that was acquired with contributions from Mountain Equipment Co-op, Fisheries and Oceans Canada as well as private donations. Our work would not be possible without their support as well as the support of our MERS community. If you’d like to join these efforts to help ensure that we can continue this work please make a contribution today.

Retrieving the SM2M
Our latest retrieval of the SM2M







~MERS team

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