Powell River-based conservation group provides crucial data for researchers

Wild Ocean Whales Society records and maps routes of marine species in BC waters

Powell River marine conservation group Wild Ocean Whales Society (WOWS) was officially formed in 2010, but the work has been going on for much longer, according to founder Susan MacKay.

“I’ve been recording sightings for well over 25 years,” she said. “I was the [Vancouver Aquarium’s] top reporter.”

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When MacKay moved to Powell River she started the group Whales and Dolphins BC, and it quickly took on a life of its own, she said. Along with the name change to WOWS, the group became a registered society in 2013 and a charity in 2017. Its work to raise public awareness for the protection and welfare of whales, dolphins and porpoises on the BC Coast has grown exponentially over that time and includes being part of coast-wide monitoring and identification efforts.

Real-time sighting reports come from a wide variety of sources, including the general public and commercial ocean users such as ferries and whale-watch companies. These are published online with maps and any submitted photos.

“We have over 16,000 sightings reports mapped,” said MacKay.

The mapping of sightings provides crucial data for researchers, academics and government agencies about the different species inhabiting local waters, their routes, habits, hierarchies and affiliations.

“Now we have actual family trees drawn out,” added MacKay.

Identifying the 38 different species that inhabit BC waters involves paying close attention to every detail.

“They’re distinctive. Every single mark, every little nick is pertinent to getting the identifications,” she said.

When a creature is identified and seen year after year, it is incredibly rewarding, she added.

“When you watch a calf grow up and you’re still seeing it after 25 years, it’s pretty spectacular.”

The group’s reach is extensive throughout the coastal region of the province.

“We have the capacity to monitor the animals all the way up to the north coast and basically all of BC,” she said. “We could do the world but our focus is Canadian waters in BC.”

The group’s work is solely volunteer and it is always looking for more help, in any capacity, added MacKay.

“There’s so much that we don’t know about these animals and we are learning every year,” she said. “People are realizing there’s a whole other world out there and it truly is another world. We don’t see much of it, but when we do we’re pretty blessed.”

Wild Ocean Whales Society World of Whales Dinner event is taking place Saturday, April 27, at Dwight Hall. For information go to wildoceanwhale.org/world-of-whales-dinner-2019.

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