Area of Expertise:
Dr. John Ford retired as head of the cetacean research program at Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Pacific Biological Station in 2017. Whales continue to be his focus in his new position of scientific emeritus, a shift that allows him to concentrate on completing scientific papers on topics such as the shark-based diet of offshore killer whales and identifying which runs of Chinook salmon are most important to the Southern Resident killer whales.
Dr. Ford has been involved in field studies on cetaceans in western Canadian waters since 1977. His areas of research include the life history, ecology, behaviour and acoustic communication of cetaceans, especially killer whales. In recent years, his research has focused on the conservation status of cetaceans listed under Canada’s Species-at-Risk Act and has involved population abundance estimation and development of acoustic tools for determining seasonal abundance of cetaceans in remote offshore waters.
Killer whales are a high profile, iconic species in the waters of the Strait of Georgia. The three ecotypes found in the area have distinct diets based on fixed behavioural traditions that are highly resistant to change. Resident killer whales are salmonid specialists, with a strong preference for Chinook salmon and, secondarily, chum salmon. Offshore killer whales are a poorly known population of at least 300 whales found primarily in outer coast waters and appear to be fish feeders and may specialize on sharks. Transient killer whales are mammal-hunting specialists that feed on pinnipeds and small cetacean species found in their coastal range. By far the most important prey species, however, is the harbour seal, which comprises over one-half of their kills. The abundance of harbour seals in the Strait of Georgia has fluctuated widely over the past century and this likely had a major impact on the abundance and distribution of transient killer whales. The occurrence and survival of each ecotype in the Strait is thus influenced by different ecological factors, and these should be taken into consideration in conservation and management decisions to promote recovery of these species at risk.
Select Presentation(s) / Publication(s):
Riera, Amalis; Rountree, Rodney; Ford, John K; Juanes, Francis; ” Effects of anthropogenic noise on fishes at the SK-B Seamount Marine Protected Area” (2016). Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference. 25. https://cedar.wwu.edu/ssec/2016ssec/salish_sea_snapshots/25/
Towers, Jared; McMillan, Christie; Malleson, Mark; Hildering, Jackie; Ford, John; and Ellis, Graeme, “New insights into seasonal foraging ranges and migrations of minke whales from the Salish Sea and coastal British Columbia.” (2014). Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference. 69. https://cedar.wwu.edu/ssec/2014ssec/Day2/69
Ford, J.K.B, G.M. Ellis, P.F. Olesiuk, and K.C. Balcomb 2009. Linking killer whale survival and prey abundance: food limitation in the oceans’ apex predator?.Biology Letters
Ford, J.K.B and R.R. Reeves 2008.Fight or flight: antipredator strategies of baleen whales.Mammal Review 38:50-86
Ford, J.K.B., and Ellis, G.M 2006.Selective foraging by fish-eating killer whales Orcinus orca in British Columbia. Marine Ecology Progress Series 316: 185-199