Conservation and Research within Vancouver Island North

Some of the world’s first research on wild cetaceans began in the Vancouver Island North region, where scientists pioneered research techniques while contributing to the conservation of cetaceans in the area.

Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve

Designated as an ecological reserve in 1982, Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve (RBMBER) is a sanctuary for Northern Resident Killer Whales. Within RBMBER, the Northern Resident Killer Whales forage for salmon and use the smooth pebble beaches that line the shore to engage in beach-rubbing. This behaviour is unique to this area and this population of orca.

The RBMBER is legally designated as Critical Habitat for Northern Resident Killer Whales and all boaters, motorized and non-motorized, are expected to refrain from entering the reserve to reduce disturbance to these whales.

Cetacean Research on Vancouver Island North

Home for many cetaceans, researchers have conducted studies in the Vancouver Island North area for decades. In 1970 Dr. Paul Spong set up Orcalab to study whales from shore in a non-intrusive manner. In the early 1970’s, Dr. Michael Bigg pioneered photo identification of Killer Whales in this region, allowing for whale censuses and identification of different ecotypes. The research of Paul Spong, Michael Bigg, Graeme Ellis, Helena Symonds, John Ford, and Alexandra Morton have inspired many scientists and individuals to continue research and conservation efforts in the Vancouver Island North area. Current research in the region is conducted by numerous organizations, including the federal government, private research labs, and non-profit organizations.

Robson Bight Warden Program

The Robson Bight Warden Program is operated by Cetus Research and Conservation Society. Marine Wardens provide water- and land-based monitoring of the RBMBER and education to recreational boaters.


Dr. Paul Spong and Helena Symonds established OrcaLab in Johnstone Strait to collect acoustic and visual data of killer whales. Data is collected 24/7 and transmitted live over the internet.


Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) conducts research on Humpback Whales and Minke Whales and promotes awareness of cetaceans in the region.


Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is mandated to research and protect cetacean species at risk, several of which can be found in the Vancouver Island North area, such as killer and humpback whales.

Oceans Initiative

Oceans Initiative conducts research on ocean noise, the health of whales and dolphins and their environment.

Raincoast Research

Raincoast Research conducts research on the health of the Vancouver Island North marine ecosystem, primarily salmon, other fish species, and the threats they face.