Eastern Pacific

Aerial images comparing the sizes of adult male Bigg’s and Resident killer whales, both taken in the Salish Sea off southern Vancouver Island.

Orcas Are Possibly Two Distinct Species

Orcas have long been considered a single global species, with different forms in different regions, known as “ecotypes.”

However, scientists have long recognised the differences between resident and transient orcas, known as Bigg's killer whales, in the North Pacific. Resident orcas maintain close-knit family pods and prey on salmon and other marine fish, while Bigg’s orcas roam in smaller groups and hunt other marine mammals such as seals and whales.

Kelp Forests Flourished Off US Pacific Coast as Early as 32 Million Years Ago

Ground-breaking research has revealed that Pacific kelp forests are much older than previously thought, reshaping our knowledge of marine ecosystems.

Originally thought to be a relatively recent occurrence in ocean history, kelp forests are now considered ancient entities, with origins dating back millions of years. This revelation comes from the analysis of fossil records and advances in dating techniques, allowing scientists to peer back through time.

A pair of orcas in the Pacific Northwest. In the Pacific Northwest there are three types of killer whales: resident. transient, and offshore. Transient orcas are rarely observed. They move quickly through an area feeding on seals and other marine mammals.

Potential New Orca Population in Northeastern Pacific

Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have uncovered compelling evidence of a potentially new population of killer whales in the Northeastern Pacific, distinct from known orca ecotypes. 

This discovery, documented in a recent study published in Aquatic Mammals, is based on observations of 49 orcas exhibiting unique hunting behaviours, including predation on sperm whales and sea turtles, off the coasts of California and Oregon.

Rui Matsumoto taking an ultrasound reading on a whale shark. Photo by Simon Pierce
Rui Matsumoto taking an ultrasound reading on a whale shark. Photo by Dr Simon Pierce

Studying wild whale sharks in the Galapagos with underwater ultrasound and blood sampling

(VIDEO: Researcher Al Dove collecting a blood sample. Video by Dr Simon Pierce)

DS: What were some of the challenges encountered when doing underwater ultrasounds? How did the team overcome them?

Galápagos Islands

Sunbathing marine lizard, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
Sunbathing marine lizard, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

An enchanting and ecologically unique place, immortalized by Charles Darwin’s seminal work on evolutionary biology in 1859, the Galápagos Islands hold a revered spot as one of the truly magical locations of the world. During pandemic times, when stillness and quiet replaced the cacophony of tourists, it seemed even more captivating. Brandi Mueller reports.

A manta ray near Isla de la Plata off the coast of Ecuador. Photo courtesy Fundacion Megafauna Marina del Ecuador.
A manta ray near Isla de la Plata off the coast of Ecuador

Largest known manta ray population is thriving off the coast of Ecuador

Although manta rays are readily capable of long-distance movements of hundreds if not thousands of kilometres, most populations appear to be philopatric (tending to return to or remain near a particular site or area—ed.) with few examples of long-distance dispersal.

Oceanic manta rays, the largest ray species, were listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2018. In 2019, their threat category increased from vulnerable to endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Diving with Great White Sharks of Guadalupe Island

Great white shark, Guadalupe Island, Mexico.

“You’re crazy; I don’t get in the water with bitey things!” The announcement of my impending great white shark trip drew a variety of such responses from horrified friends. The undisputed bad boys of the shark world, great whites are the largest of all predatory sharks, reaching lengths of up to 6m and weighing in at over 2,000kg.

Galápagos’ Isabela Island: The Last Mirage

Seen from space, Isabela Island—the largest island of the Galápagos archipelago— reminds me of a giant seahorse facing the great blue yonder of the Pacific Ocean. As one approaches land, the cap of thin white clouds dissipates. Isabela’s majestic landscape is a perfect alignment of shield volcanoes, rising above 1,000 metres, which stretches from the southeast to the northwest. Among them, Wolf Volcano reaches 1,700 metres.

Galápagos: Where the Big Things Are

Unlike Max in the children’s book by Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are, I hadn’t worn my wolf suit, or made mischief of one kind or another. I hadn’t been sent to my room before it transformed into an island of magical monsters only reachable after a year of sailing.

I wouldn’t want to spend that long on a boat, so I behaved(ish) and looked forward to being on Galápagos and spending my nights tucked up on dry land.