mers marine education research society whale guardian tail peeping out of water

Guardian (BCZ0408) ©MERS, MML-42


Reducing threats to marine species

Empowering change

Our research is aimed at increasing understanding of marine species and reducing threats by informing policy and management decisions. Our research also empowers us as educators. We speak firsthand about issues related to whale survival. Most of our current research is on Humpback Whales. We have maintained a sightings database since 2004 for Humpbacks around northeast Vancouver Island. Research projects include long-term studies on entanglement and vessel strike rates, site fidelity, social interactions, and foraging strategies. We extend the reach of our research by working collaboratively. Examples are that we provide support to scientists through our Research Associate program and by coordinating the Canadian Pacific Humpback Collaboration.

Our Fieldwork

We do fieldwork to identify and catalogue individual Humpback Whales, and collect data on scars from entanglement and/or vessel strike, feeding strategies, social associations, and interactions with other marine mammal species.

We also do year-round line transect surveys off northeast Vancouver Island to document whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Doing these monthly, systematic surveys provides data to better understand trends of seasonal abundance, distribution, and habitat use.

mers marine education research society people on a boat line trasect survey

Line-transect survey

Learning from the scars of survivors

We study Humpbacks’ scars to understand how many have been entangled and/or hit by boats. We need to study survivors’ scars because dead whales usually sink or strand in remote locations whereby cause of death is often not known. Research findings help us push for change to reduce these threats.

MERS leads project coordination and data analysis and Ocean Wise is the lead for fieldwork and data collection. Additional collaborators: Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Bay Cetology.

mers marine education research society whale kc out in water

KC (BCY0291) ©MERS, MML-42

The Canadian Pacific Humpback Collaboration

We coordinate the efforts of the Canadian Pacific Humpback Collaboration (CPHC) to maintain a province-wide catalogue for Humpback Whales sighted off the coast of BC. The CPHC catalogue and accompanying database are essential for further research into the Humpback Whales documented in Canadian Pacific waters. In addition to our documentation of Humpbacks, all photos provided by data contributors feed into this effort, and the Pacific-wide collaboration known as “Happywhale”.

mers marine education research society whale jigger lunge feeding with seagulls above

Jigger (BCX1188) lunge-feeding ©MERS, MML-57

Additional Species

We collaborate on research projects about other marine species in the northeast Pacific Ocean. The motivation is to close knowledge gaps for the purpose of conservation.

mers marine education research society minke whale just above the water

Minke Whales

Our research and cataloguing of Minke Whales around NE Vancouver Island led to knowing there are not many Minkes. Rather, the same few are sighted again and again, year after year. Scars from Cookiecutter Sharks help prove these Minke Whales migrate to warm water.

Photo: Minke Whale Rapid ©MERS, MML-57.

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saltwater mola swimming in the ocean


Help study the TWO Mola species in the NE Pacific: Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) and Hoodwinker Sunfish (Mola tecta). Only in 2017 was research published on the existence of Mola tecta. If you have Mola photos from California to Alaska, please contribute them to the study!

Photo: ©Tavish Campbell.

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Contribute Data

What we are able to learn about Humpbacks is greatly enhanced by a community of data contributors. You can help by providing photos of the whales’ flukes, dorsal fins, and/or mouths (taken from legal distances). These photos feed into BC and Pacific-wide collaborations to catalogue Humpbacks.

mers marine education research society whale peeping out of water with dorsal fin showing

Humpback Backsplash (BCY0892) & Bigg’s Killer Whales ©MERS, MML-42

MERS Publications

Our Catalogues

Android (BCY0888) ©MERS

Keep up to date

saltwater mola swimming in the ocean

November 7, 2023

Mola / Sunfish Research

Do you have photos of Sunfish (aka Mola) sighted off the coast of British Columbia or Alaska? If you do, you…

August 15, 2023

More Mola!

Yes we want your Mola sightings!Be they recent or from the past. The research continues into the TWO species of Mola…