Prey Identification & Habitat Use
Spending time with an individual or group of humpbacks is the best way to learn about their habits and behaviours. Keta Coastal Conservation utilizes transect surveys and focal follow research methodologies to collect data on prey type, preferred feeding habitats, behaviour (e.g. feeding, resting, social, travelling and diving) and more. All research conducted by Keta is non-invasive, meaning we do not interfere with the animals' behavior and we do not collect tissue samples or puncture skin in any way.
Humpbacks forage on a variety of prey depending on availability of resources, they are also known to change their preferred prey over the course of their lifespan. Humpback whale distribution while in their feedings grounds is thought to be driven by the behaviour and distribution of their prey. Identifying their prey is key to identifying areas of high importance for Humpback Whale conservation efforts. Keta collects data on prey through photo-identification of prey during feeding and by identifying prey hard parts after defecation. Fish otoliths (ear parts) are unique to each species and some survive through the digestive systems of marine mammals. Recovered otoliths are compared with photographic catalogues of fish otoliths from the northeast Pacific.
Habitat use in humpback whales is thought to be driven by prey availability and social learning. Keta Coastal Conservation is using GIS and ecological modelling techniques to look at the specific factors driving the distribution on humpbacks in the Salish Sea. Multi-year photo identification will be used to better understand site-fidelity, or, whether certain individuals show preferences for specific locations. Understanding the habitat value that these specific locations have for the whales (e.g. feeding ground, transit corridor, etc.) can help to inform conservation efforts for areas considered to be critical habitat.
From our research, we have seen that Humpbacks in the Salish Sea regularly travel and forage in pairs. Sometimes two individuals will spend a number of weeks together and the same individuals are seen together year after year. We are seeking to understand more about the basis or theses bonds and their importance in social learning and foraging behaviour.