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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 donations 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.