Environmental Science student realizes his passion for marine science

January 21, 2023

Marine vessels have been impacting whales for many years. Understanding these impacts and protecting endangered orcas from vessel traffic disruptions requires the development of new research methodologies, education, and direct intervention strategies.

SFU researchers have been working with several environmental conservation groups in British Columbia to determine the impact of vessel activities on endangered orcas. Their research revealed that reducing ship speed and noise levels helps conserve endangered Southern Resident Orcas by encouraging the whales to spend more time hunting for prey.

Inspired by the research work of SFU researchers, undergraduate student Sahil Singh (who is completing his degree in Environmental Science in the Water Science concentration) has embarked on a data collection mission to help deepen our understanding of whale behavior and health in relation to vessel activity.

“Environmental Science is a broad field with opportunities to work in agriculture, ecological restoration, fisheries, and other disciplines," Sahil shared. "It was not until I took an Oceanography course with Dr. Karen Kohfeld, Environmental Science professor, that I realized I wanted to work in marine sciences."

Photographed by Sahil Singh

Sahil recently got an opportunity to work as a Marine Mammal Researcher with the CETUS Research & Conservation Society, working on some projects with the Government of Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Marine mammal researchers protect marine mammals through research, education, and direct intervention. These researchers work in the field to protect whales and other marine mammals from the harm caused by vessel traffic.

For Sahil, this work opportunity is not only the beginning of a career in marine sciences but also a step towards ensuring the survival of endangered killer whales.

“Using theodolite (surveying equipment) and other computer-led innovations in the field, we monitor the areas home to endangered Northern Resident Killer Whales to ensure that vessels are keeping their safe distance from whales," Sahil said.

Sahil Singh during fieldwork
Photographed by Sahil Singh

“According to whale wise guidelines, vessels are supposed to maintain 200 meters (about 656.17 ft) away from the Northern Resident Killer Whales and 400 meters (about 1312.34 ft) from Southern Resident Killer Whales," Sahil added.

Even though the number of boats crossing the reserve areas is minimal, better education measures are needed to inform vessel owners about the reserve zones and the importance of keeping a safe distance from the endangered killer whales.

As Sahil nears the end of his degree at SFU, he reflects on his time in the School of Environmental Science.

“The classes that I have taken at Environmental Science have well prepared me to take on challenging fieldwork and collect data using complicated instruments for environmental conservation," Sahil said.

Even though field research demands long hours and work up to seven days a week in a remote location, it becomes a rewarding opportunity when researchers get to work on a beautiful part of the coast and network with other researchers.

Field Research Campground
Sahil Singh (Right) and Other Research Volunteers (Left-to-Right)

Taking what Sahil has learned about marine life and environmental sciences at SFU, Sahil plans to pursue opportunities in other related fields and broaden his horizon.

See where Environmental Science can take you and how you can make a difference here.