Behind the scenes with Cetacean Researcher Doug Sandilands

Go behind the scenes at the Vancouver Aquarium with cetacean research team member Doug Sandilands. Follow this link.

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre

© Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre 2006. All rights reserved.


Behind the scenes with Cetacean Researcher Doug Sandilands

Nikki: Hi, my name is Nikki Espiritu. I’m a volunteer here at the Vancouver Aquarium, and today, I’m here to interview Doug Sandilands who is a scientist for the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network. So come with me, and we’ll go and get him.

Nikki: Hi Doug.

Doug: Hey Nikki, how’s it going?

Nikki: I’m great.

Doug: Good.

Nikki: For my first question, I would like to ask you, what are the major causes in the endangerment towards killer whales?

Doug: Well, the threats to their recovering populations are mainly PCB’s and other toxins in their system that interfere with their immune system and their reproductive systems. And on top of that, boat traffic has increased a lot over the last decades, making it harder for them to find their fish and do the things that they need to do to be whales.

Nikki: Do you know how the Vancouver Aquarium is helping the conservation for killer whales?

Doug: Doctor Lance Barrett-Lennard, who studies genetics, and his research has led to a greater understanding of the genetic structure of the different populations. And he’s recognized that this population dichotomy where you have residents and transients living in the same area, goes all the way off into the Aleutians and previously, it was understood that this was unique to B.C. In addition, the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network, which is the project I work on, collects sightings from a group of about fifteen hundred observers on the coast. One of the big questions about killer whales is where they go in the winter, and the Sightings Network is starting to get more and more sightings during the winter so we’re helping to answer that question, understanding what habitats are important to them.

Nikki: As far as different killer whale communities in B.C. and Alaskan waters are concerned, how often, if at all, do the pods come together and breed?

Doug: Yeah, there are relatively few incidents of their interaction being observed. For the most part, they just ignore each other and, and as far as I know, we have no knowledge of offshores interacting with residents or transients.

Nikki: Let’s say a secondary student would want to enter the same field as you. What advice would you give to them?

Doug: A lot of students are very interested in marine biology. It is a lot of fun. Aside from taking a lot of biology courses, it’s important that you get a lot of skills in things like operating boats, and an understanding of navigation and that sort of thing, and diving is also another skill that it will be very helpful. And finally I would suggest that a lot of biology students don’t like math, and math was one of the main reasons I got a job studying whales.

Nikki: So what’s your favourite part of the job?

Doug: The B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network in the last year has just started to do cetacean surveys, where we go out in our little boat, the Seneca, and mostly in the Northern Strait of Georgia, and look for whales, dolphins, and porpoises. It certainly is my most favourite part of the job, to be out on the water.

Nikki: Really exciting, I bet?

Doug: Oh it’s great. Yup, getting up at five in the morning and back at ten, and standing out in the cold, rainy weather is sometimes hard, but I have a smile on my face for the whole day.

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