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Helping Killer Whales Survive by Studying Behaviour

A project by: Darren Croft


WE RAISED £7,500

from 45 donors

This project received pledges on Sun 09 Oct 2016
The Center for Whale Research, Exeter and York Universities working together

Support our research into killer whales and help us to conserve this unique animal!

The Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW) found off the coast of North Western US Pacific  coast live on a knife edge and are at risk of extinction. The population has been listed as endangered since 2005 in the United States and on the “Species at Risk” in Canada since 2003. Two critical questions are - what is causing decreased reproduction and what is causing increased mortality?

Who are we?

My name is Darren Croft, I'm a behavioural ecologist from Exeter University working together with Dan Franks from the University of York and we have had the privilege to be working together with Ken Balcomb and the fantastic team at the Center for Whale Research who have made  observations of killer whales for over 40 years. Together we have analysed this data and already made some important discoveries as published in Current Biology and publicised in Nature : Post-menopausal whales lead the hunt

Why is your support so important ?

Understanding social behaviour is critical to answering the crucial questions about killer whale reproduction and mortality. Just as humans are connected in a social network of family, friends and acquaintances which can predict our lifespan, we have found that killer whale social structure is also key for survival in this critically endangered population. So far, however, we have only scratched the surface and our understanding of the social behaviour of these animals is decades behind our understanding of primate social behaviour.

Tremendous progress has been made in our understanding of killer whale social behaviour by inferring social relationships from the fleeting glimpses of the whales when they surface to breathe. However, the behaviours that underpin these social relationships (e.g. mating, cooperation, aggression) happen under water and are rarely observed.

The major research priority for us is to collect new data that will allow us to record behavioural interactions. We want to do this by using un-manned aerial vehicles (drones) which will revolutionise our understanding of killer whale behaviour by getting a birds eye view of who interacts with whom and how. With this information we can refine our analysis of population viability and future predictions for the health and survival of these amazing animals.  Please help us to fund this vital new technology.

How will we use the money?

We hope to purchase the following kit if we get the support we need:

  • DJI Matrice 600 system.  It is a hexacopter with (6) on-board batteries that give it a maximum flight time of 35 minutes (with 10% battery power reserve utilising the TB48S high capacity batteries).
  • Zenmuse X5 camera - 16 megapixels camera with 7 frame/sec burst mode.
  • The cost of the above is £6,300
  • Total cost of the kit including a spare set of batteries is £7,500.

If we aren't able to raise the full amount we will reduce the spec or buy the kit as separate elements and if we are lucky enough to raise more we will use it to fund additional data collection expenses such as funding boat time.


See the list of rewards for supporting us up on the right hand side

Images and video links

Here's something about the research so far

Here's the team at the Center for Whale Research :

Ken Balcomb, Deborah Giles, David Ellifrit, Erin Heydenreich, Astrid van Ginneken, Lisa Moorby, Melisa Pinnow

Find us here:

 @ASLExeter @CWROrcas


Please help us succeed!

You don't need to give money to help us succeed!

Please share this project with anyone you think would support us – on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, by email, telephone, in a chat over the fence or on your blog.

And we know we said you don't need to give money to help us, but we'd love it if you did! Please sponsor us and help make this happen.

8 months, 2 weeks ago

We hit the target!!

A huge thank you to everyone who supported this fund raising campaign. We secured 100% of the required funding which is just incredible. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people and we really look forward to sharing the first of the drone video with you.

We will keep you update on progress with the project.

We will be in contact shortly to arrange the rewards for giving to the project.

A HUGE thank you again for all your help and support

Best Wishes


8 months, 2 weeks ago

97% funded and 24 hours remain

With just 24 hours remaining we have raised an incredible £7,322 this puts us just £178 short of our target.

It has been very touching to see just how generous people have been in giving to this campaign and we really look forward to keeping you all up to date with the progress on the research and to sharing the very first of the drone footage with you all.

Thank you all again for your incredible generosity.

Best Wishes


8 months, 3 weeks ago

Just one day left – we are at 94% of our target!!

We have just one day left now and we are so close to the target. We will be doing all we can to try to make sure that we hit the target.

A HUGE thankyou to all who have contributed both in sponsoring the project and also in sharing the news of the project via social media.

We have been overwhelmed by the response and generosity.

Best Wishes


8 months, 3 weeks ago

90% funded - we are nearly there!

We have had a fantastic response the last few days and we have hit 90% of our target.

We have just 3 days left now and we need £698 to hit our target.

A huge thank you for all your help and support with this project. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people giving to this project.

Best Wishes


8 months, 3 weeks ago

Just 4 more days and we are getting close to the target

We have had an amazing week and we have raised a total of £5,597. This is incredible and a huge thank you to everyone who has helped this project either by donating directly and or by spreading the news of our work. 

We have just 4 days left now and we will be doing all we can to try to make sure that we hit the target. 

Best Wishes


8 months, 3 weeks ago

Just one week left

We have just one week left to get the project funded. We are making excellent progress and we currently have over £4500. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people giving to this project.

It would be amazing if we can hit our funding target. This population is on the brink of extinction. A drone is going to revolutionise our understanding of key factors that are driving reproductive success and survival in these whales and help to inform future conservation.

Any help you can give in sharing the news of the project over the next week would be very much appreciated.

Many thanks for all your support


8 months, 4 weeks ago

Drones reveal how orcas share their food after a group hunt

Have a look at this amazing footage from Norway. Drones will completely change our understanding of these amazing animals.


Just 10 days left now – please spread the word.

Many thanks


9 months ago

Nearly at £4000

A HUGE thank you for all your support. We have nearly reached £4000 which is just incredible. Please do share the news of this project.

Just 11 days to go.


9 months ago

Incredible video

Just found this drone footage of false killer whales hunting. It is just amazing to get a bird’s eye view of these incredible animals.


Drones will transform what we know about marine mammals and we are very excited to start this work on the resident killer whales.

9 months ago

Two weeks left of the funding campaign.

We have had an amazing response and we have raised over 50% of our target. We still have some way to go and we would really appreciate your help in getting people talking about this campaign. If you use social media please share and speak about this project and encourage others to get involved. With your help I really hope that we can get to the target.

I gave a talk at the recent superpod#5 (http://www.orcasuperpod.com/) meeting about the work of the Center for Whale Research and how we have been using this incredible data to look at the evolution of menopause. If you’re interested you can see a video of the talk here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Zj5sUmOHr4

A HUGE thank you for all your help and generosity

Darren Croft

9 months, 2 weeks ago

We are over half way

A huge thank you to everyone that has donated to the project. I am delighted to say that we are now past the halfway mark. This is a fantastic achievement and the result of the tremendous generosity of everyone who has donated. We still have some way to go and anything you can do to promote this project would be very much appreciated. With your help I am sure we can get to the finish line. 

Thank you for getting us this far 

Best Wishes 

Darren Croft 

10 months ago

Thanks to everyone for their fantastic support and amazing generosity.  We hit our minimum funding in the first week no doubt helped by the radio coverage- both national (UK) and local radio too. In addition to the BBC Radio 4 piece http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07mxv62 with several audio clips and a link to the programme there was also a good BBC News magazine piece http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-37025092  with film clips (entitled “What can killer whales teach us about the menopause?). 

Please share the news and thanks again for your help!

Alan Denbigh on behalf of Darren Croft at Exeter University

University of Exeter matchfunded £500

Darren Croft

generated 2165 clicks and caused 7 donations totalling £235.00


generated 139 clicks and donated

Ali Barratt

generated 117 clicks and donated


generated 90 clicks and donated

Katie Wade

generated 82 clicks


generated 78 clicks and donated


generated 66 clicks and donated

Andrew Luck-Baker

generated 57 clicks


generated 52 clicks


generated 46 clicks


generated 28 clicks and donated


generated 3 clicks and donated


donated £200.00

Susan Anderegg

donated £128.00


donated £50.00


donated £50.00

Hans Henrik Sievertsen

donated £30.00

Karli Watson

donated £25.00

Orca S※O※S

donated £20.00


donated £15.00

Betina Winkler

donated £10.00


donated £10.00


donated £1.00

Courtney Smith


Oscar Struijve




Christina Price


Lee O'Toole


Brenda Peterson


Ronan Le Bras


Serina Shin


Ralitsa Padalska

followed this project and signed up to help

15 anonymous donations totalling £2426.00

Only project creators and their sponsors can post comments.

A HUGE thank you for all your support Valerie. Best Wishes Darren

The only reason I've been able to successfully complete a second donation, is because of the help of Alan Denbigh. The website donation system was confusing -- but with Alan's gracious (and continuing) help, there has been a successful second donation. Thank you, Alan -- and also, thanks to Darren Croft, for pursuing information which may be helpful to our Orca population here in Friday Harbor - and perhaps in other Orca populations, as well.

Thank you for all you do for our Southern Residents!!

This is an important study that will not only shed light on data gaps within the scientific body of what is known about Southern Resident killer whales (and killer whales in general), but will also be one of the first directed studies that employs drones for behavioral research on marine mammals. The team of experts participating in this study is phenomenal. I can't wait to see the outcome.

Nearly at £4000 A HUGE thank you for all your support. We have nearly reached £4000 which is just incredible. Please do share the news of this project. Just 11 days to go. Darren

Good luck with the project . Hope you can get enough funds to buy the drone.

Thank you for your support Brenda - very much appreciated! Best Wishes Darren

This Orca research project using drones is precedent-setting and will help marine mammals throughout Canada and the Northwest. Thank you for sponsoring this and I will spread the word to other researchers and writers. I am a National Geographic author and I'm very impressed with the work of these orca researchers. www.BrendaPetersonBooks.com

Dear Alison Thank you for your question and interest in our work. I am very sorry it has taken a while to reply to you – I have been travelling with very little access to the internet. The news of J14 is devastating for this critically endangered population and highlights the urgent need for new work to understand the drivers of survival and reproduction in this population. We strongly believe that drones offer a fantastic opportunity to collect new data on the resident killer whales that will directly feed into management strategies for this population. The data collection will be led by the Center for Whale Research, who are already permitted to conduct aerial surveys. The Center has been collecting data on the Southern Residents for the last 40 years. The Center is working closely with colleagues at the NOAA office to make a small modification to their permit to include video capture by drones and the Center has two licensed drone pilots working with them. No data will be collected until the permits are in place and all data will be collected in accordance with the operating procedure specified in the research permit. I hope that this gives you the reassurance your looking for and please do get back to me with any further questions. Darren Croft


News that J14 is missing, presumed dead, and that J28 (who has a 7 month calf) is severely emaciated shows the urgent need for drone technology to monitor this population. Even though drones have been successfully used with NRKW with zero disturbance, there seems some nervousness in the online communities I follow, to see this as an non-harmful study method for SRKWs. There have been incidences of fines and harassment to this population. Can you offer some words we might use to satisfy these concerned whale lovers, who might otherwise donate. NOAA permit process etc.?

I really believe that drones are the future for non invasive research of marine mammals and expect this project to make a significant contribution to the field.

Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to such important work. I hope you reach your target quickly!

Best wishes on achieving your goal of getting a drone! Brilliant! And thank you!

The work all the wonderful folks do at the Center for Whale Research needs your help and support. And adding Prof. Croft and the drone technology is imperative to their efforts moving forward. Please support them and the magnificent Killer Whales!

Hope you reach and surpass the target. Good luck!