Meet Dr. William Megill
Research Director of Coastal Ecosystems Research Foundation (CERF), British Columbia
Megill is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wollongong,
Australia, completing his PhD in Biomechanics at the University of
While he was working hard in Australia, we were grateful that he found time to
a terrific lesson in one of
his specialties — identifying gray whales through photo matching — for
Dr. William Megill of CERF
Wondering About Whales
Together with colleagues, Dr. Megill has studied the range and movements of seasonal
resident gray whales from California to southeast Alaska. He wondered: Did they migrate
to Mexico with the other whales each winter?
The researchers took hundreds of photos
of gray whales that hang out each summer along the southern Central
Coast of British Columbia and Washington State. Then they took hundreds
of photos of whales in the
lagoons of Baja Mexico. By working to match photos of whales in
BC with whales that migrated to the lagoons in Baja, they discovered many
of the same whales in both
places. This was a breakthrough because it was the first photographic
proof that the summertime resident whales from British Columbia migrated
south with gray whales
coming from the Arctic. As you might guess, their catalog of photos
and matches is an ever-growing project.
Many Photos Needed
Dr. Megill explains why so many whale photos
are necessary. "Like people,
marine mammals have individual differences, so the animal you
see might not always look like the drawing or photograph in your
field guide. In the Photo ID lesson
he created especially for Journey North, Dr. Megill shows us
what scientists look for in matching whale photos until they're
sure of having a positive identification.
How Do Scientists Use the Information?
Once the animals have been identified, researchers
can use certain models to estimate the population size over the years. They have
also been able to measure the average home-range size, as well as describe individual
animals' movements between kelp bed feeding grounds. This, combined with CERF's study
of the distribution and abundance of the gray whales' food supply, gives a better
picture of how the whales are using the food resources available to them.
What's Next in His Whale Studies?
1993, Dr. Megill co-founded Coastal Ecosystems Research Foundation (CERF),
a Canadian non-profit organization that funds research on whales, dolphins, and
their environment through an eco-tourism program. He has served as Research Director
of CERF ever since. Dr. Megill's research is a combination of ecology and biomechanics.
Next, he will be studying the whales' fine-scale use of habitat, looking at their
swimming behavior in relation to the distribution and abundance of their prey. Check
out the CERF website to keep up with Dr. Megill's work and the tours offered by CERF!