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© Megan Hockin-Bennett

Orcalab – saving orcas in Canada

For nearly 40 years, the team at Orcalab have been following the daily lives of the Northern Resident population of orcas.

OrcaLab is unique. Nestled along the shoreline of the evergreen forest of Hanson Island, OrcaLab has been a listening outpost for nearly half a century. In recent years, remote-operated cameras have increased our knowledge offering a fascinating insight into the daily lives of the Northern Resident orcas which call the fabled waters of the ‘inside passage’ home.

A hydrophone (underwater microphone) network listens in on over 50km² of ocean which means orcas can be monitored year round, day and night, regardless of conditions. As long as the orcas are vocalising – whether it be dark, foggy or stormy - their haunting calls are projected through speakers in the lab, the main house and even through the forest - a magical experience to listen to especially in the cool night air.

OrcaLab was established in 1970 by Dr Paul Spong, he was joined by Helena Symonds in 1979. Their philosophy is simple and is centred on the belief that it is possible to study wild orcas without interfering with their daily lives and habitat.


The Northern Resident community consists of over 300 orcas including WDC’s Adoption orcas Holly, Simoom, Fife and Bend. These majestic whales roam a huge area which stretches from South East Alaska all the way down to Vancouver Island but every summer they return to their core area of Johnstone Strait and Blackfish Sound and spend the long days chasing huge Chinook salmon or just resting and socialising with family members and other pods.

Johnstone Strait is also home to the famous ‘rubbing beaches’, a magical place where the orcas come to rub their bodies on the smooth pebbles. This unique behaviour is a cultural tradition of the Northern Residents and the remote camera network captures extraordinary images of the orcas - both above and below the surface - as they effortlessly glide through the shallows. Underwater footage from the rubbing beaches has given OrcaLab a strong hint that some of the females are pregnant – including WDC’s very own adoption orca, Holly.

Orcalab facts

  • World’s longest running wild orca project.
  • Over 300 orcas identified.
  • Uses non-invasive techniques including photo-identification and hydrophones.
  • Supported through WDC’s Adopt an Orca project.
  • The brother and sister of Corky, an orca held at SeaWorld, roams these waters.

OrcaLab also plays an important role in wider conservation issues on an international scale. Campaigning to end the dismal era of commercial whaling, preservation of the orcas’ ecosystem and the release and rehabilitation of captive cetaceans, especially Corky, are just some of the pressing issues that still require a voice. Corky was just a baby when she was brutally taken from her family, the A5 pod, in 1969 - she has languished in a concrete tank at SeaWorld San Diego ever since. Unlike Corky, her brother and sister, Adoption orca Fife and Ripple, still swim wild and free in the ocean today.

Orca spyhop

Find out more about orcas

Visit our species guide to learn more about this species.

Orca group in captivity © Rob Lott/WDC

Fate of captive orcas

Find out about why orcas are so unsuitable for a life in captivity.

To listen and watch orcas - highlights and in real time - please visit: or

Help protect whales and dolphins and their homes

By adopting a whale or dolphin, by making a donation, or by fundraising for WDC, you can help us save these amazing creatures.

Orca - Rob Lott


Adopt a whale and follow the lives of these amazing creatures.

Bottlenose dolphins leaping


Your support helps us take action to protect their homes.

Humpback whale spyhop


Run, bake, walk, cycle… what could you do to help?