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OrcaLab - orca conservation in British Columbia, Canada

The waters around Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, are home to the Northern Resident population of orcas. In 1970, Dr. Paul Spong founded OrcaLab, a small land-based whale research station nestled against the evergreen forest of Hanson Island in the waters of the "Inside Passage" of northern Vancouver Island. In 1979, Paul was joined by Helena Symonds.

The work of OrcaLab is centred on the philosophy that it is possible to study orca in the wild without interfering with their lives or habitat. A network of hydrophones, positioned around the orcas' "core habitat", helps monitor their movements all year round. Supplementing the acoustic data are visual sightings of orcas as they pass OrcaLab, and reports from land observation sites staffed by OrcaLab volunteers during the summer "season", reports from other researchers and whale watchers who share observations and information. Since 1994, OrcaLab has operated a video monitoring station on Cracroft Point in Johnstone Strait that allows the unobtrusive collection of both surface and underwater images of orcas and other ocean life. Beginning in 2000 and continuing through 2005, OrcaLab and Japan's NTT Data Corporation brought the everyday beauty of the orcas' lives to the Internet via


Now in its fifth decade, Orcalab has partnered with to develop a network of remotely controlled video cameras associated with existing hydrophones. This network will enable OrcaLab to observe orca behaviour in special protected places like the rubbing beaches of the Ecological Reserve at Robson Bight. As well, it brings live high definition imagery and live sounds of orcas to a worldwide audience via the Internet.

OrcaLab's work also includes vital conservation issues - preservation of orca habitat; working towards the release and rehabilitation of captive cetaceans, especially Corky, the longest surviving orca in captivity whose family still visit these waters each summer; and bringing to an end the dismal era of commercial whaling.

WDC continues to fund this project and is very proud of the long standing relationship it has developed with Paul and Helena over the years. In regular updates through our Adopt An Orca programme, WDC members and supporters can follow the intricate lives of the orcas and their extended families as they live the life that nature intended - wild and free.