Make a Difference in the World of Marine Conservation – Apply to Join our Board Today! (Volunteer)

Are You the Next Member of Team MERS?

In the height of summer, when MERS research, education and response work is at its peak, and our new office is full of busy summer staff, it is hard to believe that this organization started a mere nine years ago as a group of friends wanting to better understand and protect marine mammals in British Columbia (with our core study area and base being Northeastern Vancouver Island).

We have grown so much in nine years and there is so much more to come.

It’s time to grow our team once again! To help support and nurture MERS, we need more hands-on-deck.  Could this be you?

MERS board members and directors. For biographies of team members see this link. Missing from photo: Jared Towers. Photo: Derek Harnanansingh.

This fall, we are looking to add up to two new volunteer board members to help guide this organization into its second decade of operation and make an even bigger positive impact on marine conservation along B.C.’s coast. 

Interested? Here are the details:

Board Member at Large – potentially two positions available

Board of Directors position / unpaid

MERS Marine Education and Research Society

Preferably British Columbia, but candidates from other areas considered

A Little About Us:
The Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) is a registered Canadian charity dedicated to promoting conservation and understanding of marine ecosystems through scientific research, environmental education, and marine wildlife response. We are based on Vancouver Island, British Columbia and incorporated in 2010.

Our team is comprised of marine biologists and educators highly dedicated to marine conservation. While based on Canada’s west coast, team members have worked in many countries and oceans. Click here for background on our team.

We are a small organization doing big work.

Our research is primarily focused on investigating Humpback and Minke Whales, and that the threats that impact them in British Columbia. We also provide marine wildlife monitoring and incident response. Education is key to our strategy to reduce risks to marine species. Our work includes the See a Blow? Go Slow! campaign to reduce the risk of collision between whales and boaters and How to Save a Whale which educates about whale entanglement. MERS educational activities also include a comprehensive outreach plan of presentations, workshops, training sessions and programs aimed at a wide audience.

Responsibilities of the Board Member:

  • Provide leadership to MERS and help to set our strategic direction
  • Provide oversight and ensure new projects align with our established mission, vision and values
  • Provide governance and ensure MERS and its board adhere to by-laws
  • Attend and participate in bi-monthly board meetings (via teleconference)
  • Participate in fundraising initiatives
  • Help to spread the word about our organization and our work
  • Assist the organization in attracting the expertise, funding and resources needed for MERS to better achieve its goals
  • Attend bi-monthly board meeting, participate in at least one sub-committee and participate in an annual weekend-long board retreat/planning session

MERS is currently seeking candidates with the following skills and expertise:

  • Experience in/commitment to environmental issues;
  • Experience on not-for-profit boards or strong willingness to learn; and
  • Fundraising experience and knowledge.

Additional Assets:

  • Experience in:
    • Marketing, Communications or PR;
    • Law; and/or
    • Accounting or Finance.


  • A two-year commitment is requested of all Board Members.

Candidates who feel they have other skills or experience that is applicable to our mission are also encouraged to apply.

To Apply:
Please send a note about your relevant experience, skills and interest in MERS, and a CV to before September 30th. 

Our MERS board is a fantastic group of professionals dedicated to guiding MERS as it grows, providing solid governance, insight AND oversight, sharing their skills, and ensuring MERS fulfills its mission and strategic plan.

If you are looking for a meaningful way to make a difference in the world of marine conservation, apply to join our board today!


Dedicated board members: Board Chair Caitlin Birdsall left (with Olin) and Vice Chair Leah Thorpe right (with Arlen).


To Kill Seals and Sea Lions?

The following is intended as a fact-based resource with regard to considerations around killing seals and sea lions off the coast of British Columbia. This resource will be updated with additional research and sources. 

It has been catalyzed by our being asked questions by media and members of the public due to:

(1) The “Proposal for Commercial Harvesting of Pinnipeds* in British Columbia” which has been put forward to Fisheries and Oceans Canada by the Pacific Balance Pinniped Society (PBPS). *”Pinnipedia” is the group name (infraorder) to which seals, sea lions and walruses belong.  The target pinniped species in the Proposal are Pacific Harbour Seals, Steller Sea Lions and California Sea Lions.

(2) Recent shootings and disturbances of pinnipeds leading to increased public attention to seal and sea lion populations in British Columbia.

Examples of March 2019 headlines:

What is the “Proposal for Commercial Harvesting of Pinnipeds in British Columbia”? 

While the Proposal is not currently available to the public, there has been considerable media attention to the Proposal and the Pacific Balance Pinniped Society allowing for the following insights:

  • The Proposal is for a harvest, not for sustenance hunting. Considerations include marketing the meat to China and Europe (Zussman, 2018 and PBPS, 2019). 
  • The rationale provided for the harvest includes the thinking that killing seals and sea lions would leave more Chinook salmon for endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales (currently at only 75 members).
  • Quotes provided by Pacific Balance Pinniped Society board members indicate that the proposal is for killing up to 50 percent of BC’s seals and sea lions (Rasmussen, 2018). 
  • The Proposal would have to receive Federal approval to be exempted from the Marine Mammal Regulations under which it is illegal to harm or disturb a marine mammal. 
  • The Pacific Balance Pinniped Society “was established in July 2018 and includes a number of First Nations, commercial and sport fishers and fur industry representatives” (Larsen, 2019). 
  • The online presence of the Society is via Facebook at this link.

The screen shot above shows abundant sea lions during the fishery for Pacific Herring. It is from a video by Shalaine Lawson posted on social media on March 15th, 2019 . It is included  here to help provide understanding of why there are frustrations and further negative emotions regarding seals and sea lions during these localized events where the overlap between humans and pinnipeds is extreme.

Emotions may be amplified as a result of concern for the endangered Southern Residents and the potential of additional fishing restrictions impacting livelihoods. 

Great caution is required where emotions run high on both sides of an issue and may include animosity and vilification. In such cases, decisions with far-reaching consequences have high risk of  being impacted more by politics and perception, than by facts and precaution.

Are seals and sea lions responsible for the decline in the numbers of endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales?

The number of Pacific Harbour Seals off the coast of British Columbia has not increased  in 20 years. Yet the population of endangered Southern Residents has declined significantly. In fact, the total number of Southern Residents increased for a few years after the number of seals reached carrying capacity. See graphs below. 

The current population size of Pacific Harbour seals, now at carrying capacity, appears to be similar to pre-exploitation levels that occurred in the 1880s when salmon would have been plentiful (Olesiuk, 2010). 

Source of above graph: Chandler et al, 2017.

Image result for graph southern resident killer whales

Source of above graph: Centre for Whale Research, 2019

Above two graphs combined showing Southern Resident Killer Whale population fluctuating while Pacific Harbour Seal population remains constant at carrying capacity.

Steller Sea Lions are protected as a species of Special Concern under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. This means that they are an at-risk species that may become threatened or endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2010 with reassessment in 2013 and Chandler et al, 2017).

It is worthy of note that research near the Scott Islands, BC (Spalding, 1964) found that there was little evidence that historical culls had positive effects on salmon stocks. As quoted in COSEWIC, 2013 “there is little evidence that Steller Sea Lion control programs had any beneficial effect on fisheries as salmon catches did not increase noticeably following the reduction of sea lion numbers.”

California Sea Lion numbers have increased steadily since the 1970s. The population is reported to have reached carrying capacity as of 2008.  However, research also found that population growth can decrease dramatically with increases in sea surface temperatures (research from NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center and Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries, 2018 and Laake et al, 2018).

Source of above graph: NOAA Fisheries, 2018. Caption provided: “California Sea Lion numbers have grown steadily since the 1970s . . . The yellow band reflects the approximate population size, while K represents carrying capacity and MNPL is maximum net productivity level (the population level for maximum growth). The range above MNPL and below K is the optimum sustainable population, which the Marine Mammal Protection Act [USA] sets as the goal for protected species.” 

See further detail on population numbers near the end of this blog.

What are potential unintended impacts for other species?

Impacts to Mammal-Eating Killer Whales

Seals and sea lions are of great importance in the diet of mammal-eating Killer Whales known as Bigg’s Killer Whales (also known as “West Coast Transients”).

This is a distinct population protected as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. They are genetically, acoustically, and culturally distinct from other Killer Whale populations.

It is believed that reductions in pinniped populations negatively impacted Bigg’s Killer Whales and that their recent resurgence is directly correlated to the number of seals. 

From Ford et al. 2013: “Large scale culls and harvests of pinnipeds in the late 1800s to mid 1900s depleted populations of Harbour Seals and Steller Sea Lions (COSEWIC 2003; Olesiuk 2010). This likely had a major effect on the abundance and distribution of WCT whales [West Coast Transients] in BC waters. Occurrence of WCT whales in the Strait of Georgia has shown a strong increase over the past four decades, associated with the return of Harbour Seal abundance to historical levels in this area (Ford et al. 2007).”
The Recovery Strategy for Bigg’s Killer Whales (West Coast Transients)  includes the following as a recommended approach to address threats and aid in the recovery of this population, indicating that a seal and sea lion harvest would be in violation of this recommendation: “Maintain current harvest restrictions and ensure research, nuisance seal, or other authorized removals do not cause pinniped population level reductions” (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2007). 
Harbour Seals compose 52% of Bigg’s Killer Whales’ diet, and Steller Sea Lions compose 13% .Thereby, these two species alone make up 65% of the prey consumed by these whales (Ford et al 2013). 
Though Bigg’s do consume other marine mammal species  (e.g. Harbour Porpoises, Dall’s Porpoises, Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, Minke Whales), the foraging efficiency and energetics for different prey types are not well understood. The size and speed of other potential prey may make it less energetically profitable for Bigg’s Killer Whales to forage on these prey types instead of seals and sea lions. Seals are predictable in where they can be found and do not have defences like the speed of dolphins and porpoises.

Further, maintaining sufficient prey availability for Bigg’s Killer Whales depends on more than just the overall number of seals, seal lions, and other prey species. They also need a sufficiently wide distribution of prey to be able to forage effectively.

Research from Ford et al 2013 that provides insight into why this is needs to be a consideration includes that Bigg’s Killer Whales most often hunt by stealth and surprise attack. Once the element of surprise is gone, with prey knowing their predators are in the area,  it is likely more profitable for a group of Bigg’s Killer Whales to a new area in search of new prey unaware of their presence.
Note that there is considerable misunderstanding of the total number of Bigg’s Killer Whales (West Coast Transients) off the coast of British Columbia. The last published population estimate is 304 individuals in the inner coast subpopulation (DFO, 2013). In addition to this and, importantly, not included in previous WCT population estimates, is knowledge about additional mammal-eating killer whales that are typically much further off BC’s coast i.e. “an additional 217 rarely-seen individuals are considered to be members of the outer coast WCT subpopulation. The inner coast subpopulation appears to be increasing. The status of the outer coast subpopulation is unknown. (DFO, 2013)

Other considerations regarding potential ecosystem impacts? 

Seals and sea lions are opportunistic predators that feed on other fish species, including Hake and Pacific Herring (Barrett-Lennard, 2018)

Hake feed on juvenile salmon. Thereby, a reduction in the number of pinnipeds could lead to an increase in the number of Hake, and thereby fewer salmon. (Barrett-Lennard, 2018)

Pacific Herring compete with juvenile salmon. Thereby, a reduction in the number of pinnipeds could lead to an increase in this salmon predator at salmon at a critical stage of their development. (Barrett-Lennard, 2018)

Note that there are more than 135 other species that predate on salmon in addition to seals and sea lions (Wallace, 2018).

For further understanding of how to assess potential success of harvests or culls, please see the video and table below from the presentation Will Seal Culls Save the Southern Resident Killer Whales by Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard of the Coastal Ocean Research Institute provided at the 26th Annual BC Marine Mammal Symposium on November 24th, 2018.


Do seals and sea lions eat a lot of salmon? 

Some seals and sea lions in some areas eat a lot of salmon (and herring).

However, caution is very much needed in extrapolating these localized and seasonal studies to inform management decisions across larger geographic areas for larger units of time.

For example: Preliminary research by Sheena Majewski, DFO,  using DNA analysis of non-estuary seal scat samples, reveals the following shift in diet between spring and fall. (Pynn, 2018).

Further research is being conducted to better inform coast-wide and year-round understanding of seal and sea lion diet to address knowledge gaps. As per the information above however, due to the complexity of marine food webs, there will always be some uncertainty about their diet and how it impacts other species.

Further detail on population numbers and history of culling pinnipeds in British Columbia:

Updated estimates based on 2016-17 data anticipated for this fall/winter (2019). 

“The Pacific Harbour Seal population in B.C. suffered significant declines as a result of commercial fur harvests (1879- 1914, 1962-1968) and predator control programs (1914-1964). By the time the species was first protected in B.C. in 1970, the coast-wide population had been reduced to an estimated 10,000 seals, but it has since increased dramatically (Majewski & Ellis In press). Current coast-wide abundance (approximately 105,000 seals) is considered to represent a successful recovery to pre-exploitation levels (Majewski & Ellis In press). In the Strait of Georgia, Harbour Seal numbers grew at a rate of 11.5% annually (95% CI 10.9-12.6%) from 3,600 individuals in 1973 to 39,000 in the mid-1990s, when numbers stabilized (Majewski & Ellis In press; Figure 25-3).”  (Chandler et al, 2017).

“Steller Sea Lions were depleted by commercial harvesting and predator control programs that removed 55,000 animals between 1912 and 1968. By the 1970s, the B.C. breeding population had been reduced to 25-33% of peak historic levels (Olesiuk, 2018). The population began rebounding in the early 1970s, with non-pup numbers shifting from stable to 4.9% growth annually in the early 1980s (Figure 25-4). Pup abundance also exhibited an increase in annual growth rate in the mid-1980s, up from about 1.7 to 7.0% per year (Olesiuk In press). The summer 2013 breeding season survey estimated 39,200 (95% CI 33,600-44,800) Steller Sea Lions coast-wide, slightly lower than the winter 2009-2010 population estimate of 48,000 (95% CI 38,100-58,900) (Olesiuk, 2018). The Steller Sea Lion was designated as Special Concern by COSEWIC in both 2003 and 2013, and has also been legally listed under SARA at the same level” (Chandler et al, 2017).

“Market hunting, bounties, pollutants such as DDT and other forces depressed [California] sea lion numbers in the middle of the last century . .  the species then rose from less than 90,000 animals in 1975 to an estimated 281,450 in 2008, which was roughly the carrying capacity for sea lions in the California Current Ecosystem at that time. It then fluctuated around that level, reaching a high of 306,220 in 2012 before declining below the carrying capacity in the years since as ocean conditions changed” (NOAA Fisheries, 2018).


Badelt, Brad. (2018, September 4). Are There Too Many Harbour Seals in British Columbia? Hakai Magazine.

Barrett-Lennard, L. (2018, November 24). Will Seal Culls Save the Southern Resident Killer Whales? Presentation provided at the 26th Annual BC Marine Mammal Symposium.

Center for Whale Research. (2019, January 16). Southern Resident Killer Whale Population. Retrieved from

Chandler, P.C., King, S.A., and Boldt, J. (Eds.). 2017. State of the physical, biological and selected fishery resources of Pacific Canadian marine ecosystems in 2016. Can. Tech. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 3225: 243 + vi p.

COSEWIC. 2013. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Steller Sea Lion Eumetopias jubatus in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. xi + 54 pp.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2007. Recovery Strategy for the Transient Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Vancouver, vi + 46 pp.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2010. Management Plan for the Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus) in Canada [Final]. Species at Risk Act Management Plan Series. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa. vi + 69 pp.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2010. Population Assessment Pacific Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina richardsi). DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Sci. Advis. Rep. 2009/011.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2013. Information in Support of the Identification of Critical Habitat for Transient Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) off the West Coast of Canada. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Sci. Advis. Rep. 2013/025.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2018. Amended Recovery Strategy for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series, Fisheries & Oceans Canada, Ottawa, ix + 83 pp.

Ford, J.K.B., G.M. Ellis, and J.W. Durban. 2007. An assessment of the potential for recovery of West Coast transient killer whales using coastal waters of British Columbia. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Res. Doc. 2007/088. Iv + 34 pp.

Ford, John & Stredulinsky, Eva & Towers, Jared & M. Ellis, Graeme. (2013). Information in Support of the Identification of Critical Habitat for Transient Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) off the West Coast of Canada.

Gammon, Katherine. (2018, October 16). Herschel, the Very Hungry Sea Lion – It’s dangerous to blame the decline of one species on a single predator. We humans like to do it anyway. Hakai Magazine.

L. Laake, Jeffrey & S. Lowry, Mark & L. Delong, Robert & R. Melin, Sharon & Carretta, James. (2018). Population growth and status of California sea lions: Status of California Sea Lions. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 10.1002/jwmg.21405.

Larsen, Karin. (2019, February 7). B.C. group hopes commercial seal hunt gets green light. CBC News. Retrieved from

NOAA Fisheries. (2018, January 17). California Sea Lion Population Rebounded to New Highs. Retrieved from 

Olesiuk, P.F. 2010. An assessment of population trends and abundance of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) in British Columbia. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Res. Doc. 2009/105. vi + 157 p.

Olesiuk, P.F. 2018. Recent trends in Abundance of Steller Sea Lions (Eumetopias jubatus) in British Columbia. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Res. Doc. 2018/006. v + 67 p.

Pynn, Larry. (2018, January 12). Behind the Blubber – Harbor seals are blamed for chinook and coho salmon declines, but ecosystems are more complicated than some suggest. Hakai Magazine.

Rasmussen, Greg. (2018, September 12). B.C. group wants to kill seals and sea lions to save the whales. CBC News. Retrieved from 

Ross, Peter & Barrett-Lennard, Lance. (2018, July 30). Peter Ross and Lance Barrett-Lennard: Harbour seals are easy scapegoats in Chinook salmon decline. Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from

Spalding, D. J. 1964b. Comparative feeding habits of the fur seal, sea lion and harbour seal on the British Columbia coast. Fisheries Research Board of Canada Bulletin 146:1-47.

Wallace, Scott. (2018, December 23). Island Voices: Ideology, not ecology, guiding sea-cull decisions. Times Colonist.

Zussman, Richard. (2018, July 20). New group calls for seal and sea lion cull on B.C.’s coast. Global News. Retrieved from


It’s a Girl! “Lucky” the Humpback Whale

Here’s another story of a survivor. It’s an update that will likely be of great interest as Lucky is one of the most easily identifiable Humpbacks in our study area. 

The latest that we can confirm, thanks to the photo below from Kurt Staples of Eagle Eye Adventures, is that Lucky is female.

But before we explain that, let us give you some of her backstory. 

Lucky? One thing that clearly makes her so easy to identify is the scarring on her tail. In this case, her misshapen tail with all scars is not the result of entanglement or vessel strike. Lucky is the survivor of an attack by Killer Whales / Orca. This attack happened well before she was first documented in 2012. 

MERS catalogue photos for Lucky. Catalogue is available at this link.

How do we know that? Because the spacing between the rake marks is wider than than the spaces between Killer Whales’ teeth i.e. the scars grew further apart as Lucky’s tail grew. Note that there has never been a confirmed case of Bigg’s Killer Whales (mammal-eating population) killing a larger Humpback but Lucky, who was attacked as a calf, is . . . lucky to be alive.

This very fitting nickname was put forward by Leah Robinson of OrcaLab who was the first to document Lucky back on November 14th, 2012. 

The other thing that makes Lucky more easy to ID as an individual is that she is the Humpback Whale in our study area that almost exclusively solo bubble-net feeds, using a net of bubbles to coral juvenile herring. For clarity: she is not the only one that uses this feeding strategy in the area but she IS the one that appears to do so almost exclusively

The other Humpback Whales primarily lunge-feed (with some individuals also occasionally trap-feeding and/or solo bubble net-feeding). Note that Humpbacks on other parts of our coast (British Columbia’s central coast, north to Alaska) are specialists in bubble-net feeding as a team but this is not a good strategy in an area with a lot of current since the bubbles will not remain intact. .

Since 2012, Lucky has very predictably been seen solo bubble-net feeding around NE Vancouver Island in back-eddies or on slack tide i.e. where/when the bubbles cannot be blasted away by current. She has also occasionally been sighted further to the south near Campbell River (this is where Kurt photographed her). 

The wonderful video below of Lucky solo  bubble net-feeding is from another of our OrcaLab colleagues, Megan Hockin-Bennett / Wild Sky Productions

And now – how can we now confirm Lucky is female?
Without DNA testing or the presence of a calf, it is very difficult to discern gender in Humpbacks. They do not have gender differences that can be easily seen. 
We have to get a look at their undersides and this opportunity does not present itself very often. Even when Humpbacks clear the water when they breach, the pelvic area is difficult to see because it is most often covered by water. See photo below. 
KC the Humpback breaching which shows how the pelvic area cannot be seen because of the “skirt” of water.

This is why we get very excited when Humpbacks lie on their backs and “tail-lob”. THEN, if the whale’s tail is far enough out of the water, the pelvic area is visible.

The females have a small feature known as the “hemispherical lobe”. Males do not. See below (click image to enlarge). 

In this story about Lucky, you’ll note again how the knowledge we have about a whale is so often the result of a  community of data contributors. We can put the pieces of the puzzle together but  could not do it without this community and the further support of many. Thank you.

Note that Lucky’s temporary catalogue ID is “BCZuk2012#3”. We are working with colleagues to update the province-wide catalogue for Humpbacks sighted off the coast of British Columbia (which was maintained by Fisheries and Oceans Canada but has not been updated since 2010). Once we have finished the matching work involved with this, Lucky will get a permanent catalogue number in the province-wide catalogue.

Gifts That Keep On Giving

It’s Giving Tuesday, and we’re hoping you’ll consider us in decisions around gift-giving and year-end donations.

Below we provide detail on 3 ways through which your support also leads to meaningful gifts for loved ones.

  1. Honorary donation – Note that MERS is a registered Canadian charity whereby donations are tax deductible.
  2. Sponsor a Humpback
  3. Sponsor a sign to reduce risk to whales

Please know that we could not achieve what we do without you . . . our work to understand and reduce risks to whales . . . the entanglement and feeding research, the education regarding how to reduce risk of collision and what to do if entanglement is witnessed, and our marine wildlife rescue efforts.

It’s because of people like you, that our small team can achieve what we do. For a summary of our work achieved in 2018, please click here. 

1. Make an Honorary Donation

When you indicate your donation to MERS is  a gift, we’ll send your giftee a message revealing your thoughtfulness and what work the donation supports. Oh, and YOU get a Canadian tax receipt.

Please click here to make a donation. 

Know that monthly donations are especially  valuable as they provide an indication of how many people see the value of our work and are committed to supporting it. These reoccurring donations are reliable income thereby allowing more effective planning and budgeting and being able to indicate in-kind support when applying for grants.

All contributions directly support our research, education, and marine wildlife response activities.

2. Sponsor a Humpback

For just $43 we will send a Humpback Whale sponsorship package with a personalized message to the gift recipient. The package includes a card featuring a photo of your chosen whale; a USB stick with a biography of your whale with photos and recordings of Humpback vocals; AND you and the giftee will receive at least two email updates every year about the sponsored whale. Yes, that’s right, there are no renewal fees.  Click here for details and during checkout indicate that the sponsorship is a gift. We will then contact you about personalizing the letter that accompanies the sponsorship package.


3. Sponsor a Sign?

We are striving to have “See a Blow? Go Slow!” signs all along BC’s coast to reduce the risk of collision for the sake of both boater and whale safety. This is essential now that Humpback Whales have thankfully returned from the brink of extinction and because they behave very differently from whales like Orca that boaters are more used to seeing on our coast. The awareness of how to reduce the risk of hitting a Humpback serves the other whale species well too. Signs costs approximately $70 each  (price depends on shipping costs) and the sign would include the name of your gift recipient (or the logo of your choosing). Please see example below.

A donation can be given in the amount of the sign’s value leading to your getting a tax receipt. See below and contact to discuss dedication and confirm price. Signs are made of super durable dibond with dimensions 18.5″ x 24″ (~47 cm x 61 cm).

Example of a sponsored sign in Comox, made possible by
Example of a sponsored sign in Comox, made possible by the Flying Dragons Dragon Boat Team. 

Thank you for considering MERS in your gift-giving and donations. 

Any questions? Please contact us via this link. 


Three Generations of Humpbacks Documented!

Three generations of Humpback Whales have now been documented!

This is such an indication of the great collaborative effort in studying the fortunate return of Humpback Whales off British Columbia’s coast, and its importance.
Alethea Leddy was the first to document Apollo with a calf, now nicknamed Nova. Alethea’s photos from June 18th near Race Rocks even allowed us to determine that the calf is male. The calf had been lying on his back tail-lobbing whereby the pelvic area could be seen. See Aletha’s photo at the end of this blog that allowed determination of Nova’s gender. For detail on gender determination in Humpbacks, click here for our blog on the subject. 

We know that Apollo was born in 2010 to Horizon but did not know her gender before now.

We first documented Horizon in 2004 when she was already at least subadult. Apollo is her first known calf. We documented a second calf in 2013 and have not had re-sightings of this whale.

Calves only stay with their mothers for a year. Having these solid ID photos allows us to ID them in future. Because the calves often lose a lot of the white pigmentation in their tails as they age, It is particularly helpful to also have photos showing both sides of the dorsal fin and the trailing edge of the tail. Being able to study whales as individuals allows us to have data informing everything from age of first calving (varies per population), to life expectancy, to social associations, to how the whales use the coast.

The nicknames:
Humpbacks are nicknamed for distinctive features so that it is easier to recognize them as individuals. Horizon has horizontal lines on her tail. The markings on Apollo’s tail suggest planets. And, while some of the white will likely disappear on the calf’s tail, there is a distinctive line and a moon-shaped bump that will likely stay. Thereby, Alethea suggested Nova, also keeping with the celestial theme of these 3 generations of whales.

To make the point again that it takes a dedicated community to study giants, below are the names of all those who have contributed sightings of these 3 whales (outside of our direct MERS team). This includes naturalists, captains and guest of at least 9 ecotourism companies as well as our research colleagues:
Jarret Morton, Alexandra Morton, Marilia Olio, Tasli Shaw, Mark Malleson, Gary Sutton, Jos Krynen, Amber Stroeder, Kaitlin Paquette, Johanna Ferrie, Eiko Jones, Peter Hamilton, Leif Nordman, Shea Majbroda, Michelle Mercer, Chloé Warren, Jennie Leaver, Jeff Aoki, Carmen Pen, Alison Ogilvie, Geoff Dunstan, Roger McDonell, Franz Plangger, April Macleod, Jim Borrowman, Jess Fargher, Maureen Towers, Dave Towers, Sophia Merritt, Kyle Kermode, Inge van der Wulp, Shea Majbroda, Jan Kees, Humpbacks of the Salish Sea, Keta Coastal Conservation.

For detail on gender determination in Humpbacks, click here for our blog on this subject.

See this link to purchase a MERS Humpback Whale Catalogue (PDF) for whales documented from the northern Strait of Georgia to the northern end of Goletas Channel. Updated PDF provided annually at no extra charge. 

We’re Hiring! MERS Data Analyst

Job Posting
Marine Education and Research Society
Summer Student Position: Data Analyst  

The Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting conservation and understanding of marine ecosystems through scientific research, environmental education, and marine wildlife response.  We are based on NE Vancouver Island. For information about MERS’ research, education and wildlife response efforts, see

The Data Analyst will be involved in MERS’ efforts to study and protect marine mammals in British Columbia, with a focus on consolidating Humpback Whale sighting and photo-identification data as part of a province-wide project to better understand this population. This Humpback Whale study is a collaborative, coast-wide effort that will allow for enhanced knowledge of the abundance, habitat use, social associations, movements, and threats of Humpbacks in B.C., for the purposes of conservation.

Duties will include:

  1. Conducting comparative analysis of Humpback Whale catalogues to determine the identifications of individual whales.
  2. Data entry and database management for Humpback Whale sighting and photographic data.
  3. Assisting in supervising volunteers during data entry and photographic data analysis in order to maintain the quality of the MERS databases.
  4. Aiding in MERS’ work to serve as a resource to media and the local community (with a focus on local ecotourism operators) in order to enhance the economics/value of wildlife viewing experiences.
  5. Helping to develop resources to reduce threats to whales and, thereby, increase the sustainability of ecotourism in the region.
  6. Other office-based work as needed.This is an office-based position but there may also be some opportunities for the Data Analyst to accompany MERS researchers on boat-based surveys to collect Humpback Whale photo-identification data.

Successful candidates:

  • Are Canadian or have a Canadian work permit. (Please note: MERS will not be able to assist candidates in obtaining a Canadian work permit).
  • Are students currently enrolled in a full-time post-secondary program, returning to school in the fall of 2018 (funding requirement).
  • Are studying biology, environmental science, resource management or a related field and have knowledge of the biology and ecology of marine mammals in British Columbia.
  • Are between 15-30 years of age (funding requirement).
  • Have strong computer skills. Previous experience with some or all of the following programs an asset: Microsoft Excel, Photo Mechanic, Filemaker, Adobe Lightroom, and QGIS.
  • Work well independently and with minimal supervision.
  • Have experience with data entry.
  • Have exceptional organizational skills.
  • Are able to demonstrate strong abilities in matching whale flukes and fins for identification.


Work term:
10-week contract with an anticipated start date of June 18th, 2018

Position location:
Much of the work can be done remotely but, for the purposes of supervision, it is preferred that the Data Analyst is based in Victoria or on NE Vancouver Island.

Application deadline:
May 13, 2018

Application format:
Applications should include a cover letter specifically addressing position requirements, resume, and 3 references (name, position and email address) with a minimum of 2 being employment contacts.   Applications should be emailed to

Selection procedure: 

  1. References of short-listed candidates contacted.
  2. Short-listed candidates interviewed via SKYPE.
  3. Final interviews held in person in Vancouver, Victoria or Port McNeill. Candidates will be asked to complete an exercise to assess their ability to match whales IDs.

Please note that only short-listed applicants will be contacted and that this would happen before May 20th.