Rianna Burnham

Whale Lab Senior Researcher, Univerisity of Victoria Fellow

Rianna has a BSc. in Natural Science (Hons) and MSc. in Biogeography. She worked in Central America on coral reef mapping and health monitoring programs in Honduras, as well as running a research program to estimate populations of sea turtles and the effect of bycatch off the coast of Baja California before beginning her Masters in Canada. Rianna has over eight years experience in the Pacific northwest, with her Masters thesis focused on the feeding ecology of gray whales off the west coast of Vancouver Island, as well as determining life histories for their invertebrate prey. As such her work had two themes, the first being the ecology of the predator-prey relationship, and the second the taxonomy and systematic biology of prey species. She developed strong lab and field skills working in a toxicology department for a European Pharmaceutical company and as a Research Assistant for an Oceans Technology Lab, which preceded the four summer seasons and 2 winters research put towards her graduate work.  She was a field Project Coordinator for Projects in British Columbia and Baja California before running the University of Victoria Whale Research Lab field station during her graduate work, welcoming interns as field research assistants to each. During her graduate work she led work in population ecology of whales using line transect and photo-identification mark-recapture, behavioural observations, the biology and ecology of whales using the field site, prey sampling, and prey ecology and taxonomy, as well as overseeing the data collection for other graduate and Honors students. She continues to be the Scientific Program Director for the non-profit organization ‘Society of Ecological and Coastal Research’ whose research focus is of marine mammals in British Columbia. Rianna had lead training courses for professional Marine Mammal Observers and On-board Naturalists, presented at international marine mammal conferences,and publishing her work in peer-reviewed journals

Current Research

Rianna joins the WHaLE project as a Senior Researcher on the west coast of British Columbia, after a number of years working in the private sector. Using both stationary and mobile data collection platforms her work aims to map the soundscape in key whale habitat, characterizing the ambient condition and anthropogenic input to this. She also looks to characterize whale vocalizations during various life history events, in particular migration, foraging, and weaning, as well as exploring the response to threat and acoustic disturbance. Overall she aims to use acoustics as an ecological tool to deepen understanding in whale biogeography.


Undergraduate Courses:

GEOG 300: Whale Ecology and Conservation

GEOG 474: Field Studies in Biogeography

GEOG 491: Whale Geography

Wildlands Studies Field Course: Marine Wildlife and Canadian Coastal Ecosystems

Public Outreach/Continuing Studies:

Marine Mammals of British Columbia - Part I and II

Evolution, Biology, and Ecology of Marine Mammals

Conservation and Management Issues of Marine Mammals in British Columbia

Whale Acoustics: Seeing in the Dark

The Hidden World of Whales

Whales: A World of Sound

Marine Naturalist Course


See 'Publications' tab for more on recent resarch interest and articles