The B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network was formed in 1999, but its story began many years ago. And the story is closely linked to the public’s changing view of killer whales.

Kill the beast!

"Savage murderers!" "Killing machines with huge teeth!" Up until the 1960s, many people thought of killer whales as ferocious creatures and feared them as much as sharks. Sadly, some killer whales were hunted and shot on sight at this time.

The tide turns

Everything changed in 1964, when a killer whale – later named Moby Doll – was captured and brought to a makeshift pen in Vancouver harbour. Tens of thousands of people came to see the whale and were shocked by how gentle it was. Newspaper articles were published around the world. When Moby Doll died, the London Times gave the event as much attention as it had the outbreak of World War II.

Star attractions

Another killer whale, named Namu, was the first real cetacean celebrity. His shows at the Seattle Public Aquarium were so popular that he starred in his own movie and had his own song. His fame spawned a rush for aquariums all around the world to display killer whales.

Concern for killer whale populations

As more young whales were captured for aquariums, Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) realized that we knew very little about wild killer whale populations in B.C. Someone was going to have to find out! That someone was DFO scientist Dr. Michael Bigg.

The census begins

Counting every killer whale on the coast was a big job, so Dr. Bigg decided to ask the public for help.

During this study, Dr. Bigg learned to identify individual killer whales by the shape of their dorsal fins and their grey saddle patches, just like we can be identified by our fingerprints.

Forming the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network

The public continued to report their sightings to the scientists, but the information wasn’t organized in one place. That’s why DFO and the Vancouver Aquarium got together to create the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network. Now, the public had a place to call whenever they saw a whale, dolphin or porpoise.

Looking to the future

We still have a lot to learn about B.C.'s cetaceans. The public's sighting reports may give researchers more insight into the fascinating world of marine mammals – and, in the process, find ways to protect them.
Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre

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

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