Meet Dr. William Megill
Research Director of Coastal Ecosystems Research Foundation (CERF), British Columbia

Dr. William Megill of CERF

William Megill is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wollongong, Australia, completing his PhD in Biomechanics at the University of British Columbia. While he was working hard in Australia, we were grateful that he found time to put together a terrific lesson in one of his specialties — identifying gray whales through photo matching — for Journey North!

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 just 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!