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Alexandra Morton

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Citizenship  American, Canadian
Education  American University
Role  Biologist

Name  Alexandra Morton
Alma mater  American University
Children  Jarret Morton
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Born  July 13, 1957 (age 66) Lakeville, Connecticut, US (1957-07-13)
Residence  Echo Bay, British Columbia, Canada
Fields  Cetology, marine biology
Institutions  Raincoast Research Society
Known for  Killer whale research, conservation
Spouse  Robin Morton (m. 1981–1986)
People also search for  Robin Morton, Alexander Morton, Jarret Morton
Influenced by  Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Michael Bigg
Books  Listening to Whales, Heart of the raincoast, Beyond the Whales

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Alexandra Bryant Morton is a biologist who settled in Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation territory in British Columbia, Canada to study wild orca (killer whales) in 1984. Morton made her home in Echo Bay - a community without roads, electricity or stores.


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In 1987, salmon farms moved into the region. At first Morton thought they were a good idea, but within a few years the changes to the archipelago became a concern to the people in the region. Since then, Morton has published extensively on the impact of salmon farms on whales and salmon.

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Early life and education

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Alexandra Bryant Hubbard was born on July 13, 1957 in Lakeville, Connecticut, United States. In her memoir, Listening to Whales, she said of her birthplace, "I can't imagine a more whaleless environment." Her father was an artist and her mother, a writer. Hubbard said that her passion for animals came from exploring the woods with her brother.

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In 1977, she started working with psychonaut John C. Lilly as a volunteer in the Human/Dolphin Society. She catalogued 2,000 audio recordings of bottlenose dolphins. She then graduated Magna cum Laude from American University with a two-year Bachelor of Science diploma.

Personal life

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Hubbard married Canadian wildlife filmmaker Robin Morton in 1981. The couple had a son, Jarret. In 1986, her husband drowned after his diving equipment failed. Morton decided to continue her study alone. In 1997, Morton became a Canadian citizen while keeping her American citizenship.

Study of captive orcas

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Morton studied the communications of dolphins at Marineland of the Pacific in Palos Verdes, California. When she realized there were too many individuals and that bottlenose dolphins are too quick to record their behaviour, Morton decided to shift her study toward Marineland’s pair of orcas, Orky and Corky, whom she had previously called "boring" because they spent long periods of time just floating while calling back and forth to each other.

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Morton observed the pair when the female gave birth to the first orca conceived in captivity. She was interested in studying how baby orcas picked up new language. However, that baby died and none of their other babies survived more than 45 days.

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Following the death of each of the little whales, Morton recorded from Corky a behaviour that could only be described as mourning. The young mother lay on the bottom of the tank repeating the same call over and over, stopping only to gulp another breath of air. The calls became raspy as the whale vocalized day and night.

Morton also discovered that orcas invented games to distract themselves. One, the "Double Layout", consisted in Orky and Corky lying on their backs, putting their flukes on the platform next to the tank and raising their right flipper simultaneously. The most interesting behavior was the dawn greeting where both whales pressed their tongues against the tank wall where the first shaft of sunlight hit.

Arrival in British Columbia

In 1979, Morton contacted pioneering orca researcher Michael Bigg, who told her Corky and Orky had been captured from A5 Pod in British Columbia. He knew this from the capture photos as he could see Corky pressed against the side of her mother. Bigg had photos of this mother whale and her sisters, and he knew they visited Johnstone Strait every summer near Alert Bay. Morton spent her summer there and found A5 pod as well as other orca families.

The next summer, she returned to British Columbia and met Robin Morton. Alexandra Morton shifted her study to wild orcas, feeling terrible that she was spending time with Corky’s family, while Corky remained locked in a tank in southern California. Robin and Alexandra moved onto a boat, The Blue Fjord, so that they could follow whales. To support their work, the Mortons rented it out for tourists and researchers.

In 1984, while following the A12 matriline in Northeastern Vancouver Island, Morton came across the village of Echo Bay, British Columbia in the Broughton Archipelago. She and her husband decided to settle there to pursue their study of wild killer whales.


In 1973, marine biologist Dr. Michael Bigg developed a pioneering photo identification system which consists of photographing the dorsal fin and saddle patch of each killer whale. Starting in 1975, Bigg and his colleagues began assembling catalogues containing the genealogical tree of every killer whale family in British Columbia and an ID photo of each orca. Since arriving in the Broughton Archipelago, Morton has been one of the main contributors to these catalogues, providing ID photos of northern resident as well as of transient killer whales.

Transient orcas

For many years, only the resident orcas were intensely studied, as their predictable behaviour and particularly stable social structure enabled researchers to follow them easily over a whole summer. Transients, on the other hand, have erratic route patterns and are thus difficult to study. However, the Broughton Archipelago where Morton lived was frequented by many transient groups, and since the mid 1980s she has studied them.

One of her main discoveries has been that the differences in feeding habits between residents and transients lead each community to different lifestyles and behaviours. Transients, now named Biggs whales, eat only warm-blooded prey, whereas residents eat only fish.

She noted that transients, unlike residents, are mostly silent. As their mammalian prey have very good hearing, vocalizing could alert them of the predators approaching. Moreover, the seals and sea lions’ good eyesight and their ability to teach their offspring make it imperative for transients to swim as stealthily as possible, thus explaining the transients' longer dives and their habit of hiding their breath and clicks (used for echolocation) among other noises present in the sea. One transient Morton knew well even used to hide behind her boat to avoid being detected by potential prey.

In 1987, Morton expanded her study to pacific white-sided dolphins which had come back to the archipelago three years prior.

Raincoast Research Society

In 1981, Morton founded Lore Quest (renamed Raincoast Research Society). Its original purpose was, according to its website, to "conduct year-round research on the acoustics of the orca of the British Columbia coast". Over the years, Raincoast Research has also been involved in making identification catalogues of the Pacific White-Sided Dolphin population in British Columbia. Following the expansion of the salmon farming industry in the Broughton Archipelago, Raincoast Research Society has been a leader in studies on its impact and has provided support for a number of field workers and scientists interested in this subject.

Salmon research

Net-pen salmon farms arrived in British Columbia in the 1970s but began to proliferate by the late 1980s. By 2000, 90% of salmon farms in the province were Norwegian owned, and contain Atlantic salmon. Since then, the salmon farming industry has grown, notably in the Broughton Archipelago. Recently corporate giant Mitsubishi bought a company with many salmon farms in BC.

Morton began to study the effects salmon farming brings to the coast of British Columbia, particularly to wild salmon populations, which experienced major declines since in the introduction of salmon farms in the area.

On May 12, 2015, Morton, as Director of Pacific Coast Wild Salmon Society, released a 24-page booklet, Salmon Confidential: The ugly truth about Canada’s open-net salmon farms. The booklet makes the case that the wild-salmon-focused economy of British Columbia far outweighs the contributions of salmon farms.The booklet explores the issues of sea lice, impacts on lobster fisheries, challenges to bio-security, salmon viruses, exotic species, and the local economy.

In the spring of 2010, Morton helped found the social movement Salmon Are Sacred to make people aware of the value of salmon to society. Wild salmon are a keystone species feeding wildlife, the forest that make the oxygen we breath, and the economy of many communities.


Morton initiated two petitions, one called "Refuse to expand the salmon farming industry in BC", the other called "Divest Dirty Salmon". The first is to ask the Canadian government to stop allowing the expansion of salmon farms in British Columbia. The second is the ask Norwegian government to divest from salmon farming.


In May 2013, Ecojustice lawyers, on behalf of Alexandra Morton, filed a lawsuit in Federal Court against the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Marine Harvest Canada Inc. The lawsuit was filed after learning that fish later confirmed to be infected with the piscine reovirus (PRV) had been transferred into an open-pen fish farm operated by Marine Harvest in Shelter Bay, BC. On May 6, 2015 the Court sided with Morton and struck down aquaculture licence conditions that allowed private companies to transfer fish infected with viruses to open-pen farms in the ocean.


  • 1998 "Heart of the Raincoast." (with Billy Proctor). Horsdal and Schubart, Victoria.
  • 2002 "Listening to Whales: What the Orcas have taught Us." Ballantine Books.
  • 2004 "Beyond the Whales: The Photographs and Passions of Alexandra Morton." Heritage House Publishing, Victoria.
  • Children's books

  • 1991 "Siwiti - A Whale's Story." Orca Books, Victoria.
  • 1993 "In the Company of Whales, from the Diary of a Whale Watcher." Orca Books Victoria.
  • References

    Alexandra Morton Wikipedia