Photo of Sharon Kay

Sharon Kay

Graduate Student

I am a Masters student with the Applied Conservation Science Lab and am interested in understanding how we can incorporate consideration of the social systems of species into their conservation and management. My work focuses on the social dynamics of the threatened Northern Resident Killer Whales, a species of cultural and economic importance to British Columbia. This population of killer whales (i.e., orcas) are limited by their primary salmon prey, and their social system is central to how individuals forage and share prey with one another.

In collaboration with Ocean Wise Conservation Association, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and the University of Victoria, I am investigating how social dynamics and prey sharing might influence group health in killer whales. Additionally, this work may provide insights into how prey sharing under food limitation could drive the evolution of the Resident Killer Whale social system.

Using remotely piloted aircraft (drones), we collect body condition data on killer whale social groups to estimate health in a non-invasive manner.

Understanding the complex variability that stems from group dynamics and how this approach can better inform a species’ conservation is what drives my excitement for research.

Our project is funded through the Mitacs Accelerate Fellowship in Partnership with Ocean Wise Conservation Association and the University of Victoria.

I am co-advised by Dr. Lance Barret-Lennard of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the University of British Columbia.

I hold a Bachelors in Science with Honours in Marine Biology from the University of British Columbia, where I studied disease ecology and species interactions.



Kay, S; Gehman, A; Harley, C. (2019). Reciprocal abundance shifts of the intertidal sea stars, Evasterias troschelii and Pisaster orchraceous, following sea star wasting disease. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences. 286(1901)