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 incorporated in 2010 and are based on northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia in the Territory of the Kwakwaka'wakw.
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 conservation efforts are focused on Humpback Whales, Minke Whales and Mola species off the coast of British Columbia but has also included work to understand and reduce risks to additional marine mammals in BC and in other parts of the world.
Our education efforts include programs to train marine naturalists and educate boaters.
What We Do:
- Our Humpback Whale research area is from the upper Strait of Georgia to Bella Bella and NW Vancouver Island
- Education efforts to reduce threats to whales (and boaters) are coast-wide – includes signage, resource development, media engagement, presentations / webinars, and Marine Mammal Naturalist Courses
- Photo identification, population, and behaviour studies - Minke and Humpback Whale
- Feeding strategy studies – Humpback Whales
- Collaboration on research into distribution of Mola / Ocean Sunfish species off the west coast of North America
- Marine mammal response and rescue
- Studies to better understand the threat of entanglement to marine mammals
- Collaboration to update the catalogue for Humpback Whales documented off the coast of British Columbia
- Education to raise awareness of Leatherback Turtles off the coast of BC
- Educational resource development to reduce marine debris
Highlights of work achieved by MERS in the last year (to April 2021)
Educational and Outreach
- Adapting to the necessity for online, virtual education, including:
- Delivering 23 webinars aimed at reducing risks to whales and further marine life, reaching over 1,745 people;
- Teaching a online Marine Mammal Naturalist Course (24 hours of instruction over 4 weeks);
- Conducting live Q & A marine education sessions on social media;
- Creating video shorts to support boater education e.g. “What Every Boater Should Know: The Flags”; and
- Developing a standalone boater education resource supported by video to increase knowledge of the Marine Mammal Regulations and best practices regarding vessel operation around marine mammals.
- Strategic positioning of 94 additional “See a Blow? Go Slow!” signs to educate boaters on how to reduce risk to whales for a total of more than 350 signs now posted on British Columbia’s coast (see map at this link);
- Coordinating an initiative focused on incorporating Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations into both Transport Canada’s and the Canadian Power Squadron's boater courses;
- Promoting and distributing Whale Warning Flags;
- Creating an educational member-only online resource for our Humpback Whale sponsors;
- Submission of a request for an emergency assessment of Sunflower Stars to the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC); and
- In development: animations to raise awareness about, and reduce, marine debris.
- Over 1,400 database entries for sightings of Humpbacks in 2020/21 with an additional 1,000+ entries for sightings from previous years;
- Further data collection and analysis of scars on Humpback Whales that indicate they have survived entanglement(s) and drafting a manuscript focused on the scope of this threat to Humpbacks in BC waters for publication (work conducted in collaboration with DFO);
- Continued data collection for Humpback Whale population studies and feeding strategy research;
- Coordinating the efforts of those studying Humpback Whales off the coast of British Columbia to consolidate data sets and develop a Province-wide Humpback Whale catalogue to enable further research collaboration;
- Conducting multi-species marine mammal surveys to inform seasonal and annual changes in distribution;
- Compiling Mola / Ocean Sunfish sightings to support a study into species distribution off the coast of British Columbia; and
- Addition of Humpback Whale mouth ID photos to our cataloguing efforts, to allow identification of trap-feeding whales by their distinctive mouth markings.
Marine Mammal Rescue and Response
- 9.5 days of monitoring commercial fisheries overlapping with areas of high whale density, to improve reporting of incidents and to respond, or provide support to rescue efforts, when needed;
- 5.5 days of support for whale entanglement response by coordinating and undertaking search efforts for known entangled Humpback Whales; and
- Communication / coordination for 23 marine mammal incidents, ranging from violations of the Marine Mammal Regulations to marine mammal entanglement.
How can all this work be achieved by a small team?
Through a dedicated community of supporters who help through:
Current Grant Funding
- Government of Canada (Fisheries and Oceans Canada Marine Mammal Response Program and Habitat Stewardship Program for Aquatic Species at Risk)
- ECO Canada
- Canada Summer Jobs
- North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association Conservation Fund
- The Anonymous Foundation
- Ocean Bridge (providing volunteers)