Killer Whale Research
Documentation on Orcas
Almost everything that humans know about killer whales has been the result of thorough research. Highly developed technology along with previous knowledge let us go beyond visual observations.
The branch of zoology that deals with cetaceans is cetology, and those who exercise the function of the study are cetologists. Some of them focus on a particular research or even a specific species, and thanks to these scientists a great deal of information has been released. They deserve special distinction, because although orcas are among the most widespread vertebrate mammals in the world, it is not as easy to access their habitat or follow them.
Research and learning
There are many cetacean research centers government funded and private. Sometimes the research is conducted or sponsored by marine aquariums, usually the larger and with more resources.
The objectives are quite varied, but tend to focus on aspects of reproduction, abundance, migration or seasonal movements, behavior and any aspect of their biology.
A researcher devoted to the study of orcas is Ingrid N. Visser, a marine biologist. She has published her research in many scientific journals and founded his own nonprofit organization, Orca Research Trust, whose primary cause is the protection and conservation of whales through education and scientific research.
One of the first researchers interested in orcas was Michael Bigg also a marine biologist. Bigg was the man behind the photo-identification system to distinguish orcas through the process of taking photographs. Through photo-identification, he was able to recognize individual orca morphology and subsequently each herd. The transient orcas, an ecotype, are also called Bigg’s killer whales in honor of this important scientist.
Research often involves long expeditions in boats to access orca habitats. Imagine those scientists who venture to the distant Antarctic waters to study the populations of the area! It is a job that takes time, patience and concentration.
Scientists use multiple techniques and tools for their research, including acoustic monitoring devices, the photo-identification system, tracking devices and other visual methods.
The taxonomy of killer whales is one of the most intriguing aspects for scientists. We often represent these cetaceans as bulky animal with a color pattern in black and white, triangular dorsal fin and a white-eye patch. But based on genetic research scientist are concluding that there are at least 3 types of killer whales in the North Pacific and 4 types that inhabit the Arctic Ocean, each type with its own morphological and genetic characteristics. Even though, they think that there are more types, subspecies or even species, which in the future will change the taxonomic classification of Orcinus orca.
Continuous research is always necessary, since orcas are living beings and are highly sensitive to the continuous habitat changes product of the human activities and global warming. Therefore, population estimates are continuously performed to monitor their condition. Moreover, the observation of their feeding habits is compulsory because this gives us an idea of their preferences and dietary needs. In certain regions such as the Antarctic orcas tend to make trips; a fact not overlooked which has led to the research of their moving patterns.
The research on Orcas plays a key role in learning and has contributed to improving the negative image that some people had about them. As knowledge increases, the empathy to them rises as well.