Sarah Fortune

Sarah Fortune

Former Postdoctoral Fellow

Tel: 604.822.8181
Fax: 604.822.8180

Education: PhD University of British Columbia and Guest Student at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (2018), M.Sc. University of British Columbia (2012), Queen’s University B.A.H. Environmental Science and Political Studies (2007)

Research Interests: Foraging ecology, biological oceanography, marine ecology, bioenergetics & conservation biology

Study Areas: North Pacific Ocean, Eastern Arctic Ocean and North Atlantic Ocean


Sarah Fortune
Eastern Canada-West Greenland bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) traveling along the shoreline of Cumberland Sound, Nunavut


Sarah is interested in understanding the complex feeding dynamics of marine mammals in temperate and Arctic environments. Her research focuses on determining the biological and physical conditions necessary to support successful feeding under current environmental conditions. Sarah applies new technology to record the fine-scale movements of large whales from the air and underwater to determine when and where they are feeding and what their encountered prey field looks like. She uses oceanographic sampling instruments to determine at what depth and abundances prey are found (e.g., zooplankton) and the associated physical properties of the water column (e.g., temperature and salinity) near tagged animals to assess the quality and quantity of their prey field. Combining information about the predators and their prey, she is able to identify key feeding areas throughout their range, assess the nutritional status of different demographic groups of whales and evaluate how climate induced shifts in prey distribution and abundance may impact feeding conditions in the future.

Current research project

Through a collaborative research study, we are testing whether the availability of Chinook Salmon is sufficient to support a healthy Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population. We’re using aerial and underwater technology to record the fine-scale movements of killer whales while simultaneously recording detailed information about the abundance and accessibility of encountered prey. Combining information about killer whale feeding behaviour and their prey will allow us to assess whether SRKWs are prey limited.

Northern Resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) filmed by drone pilot Keith Holmes from Hakai Institute during our 2019 field season. Images collected under DFO and UBC permits XMMS 6 2019 and A19-0053.


Sarah Fortune
Moulting bowhead whales in Cumberland Sound, Nunavut

Fortune, S., S. Ferguson, A. Trites, B. LeBlanc, V. LeMay, J. Hudson, M. Baumgartner. In Press. Seasonal diving and foraging behaviour of Eastern Canada-West Greenland bowhead whales. Marine Ecology Progress Series (DOI:

Fortune, S., S. Ferguson, A. Trites, J. Hudson, and M. Baumgartner. In Review. Bowhead whales use two foraging strategies to maximize consumption of zooplankton in Cumberland Sound, Nunavut. Scientific Reports (ID 5f175f43-7ce5-4b25-8065-e7cbed96dd43).

S. Fortune, B. Young and S. Ferguson. In Review. Age and sex-specific movement, behaviour and habitat use patterns of bowhead whales in the Eastern Canadian Arctic. Polar Biology (POBI-D-19-00248).

Young, B., S. Fortune, W. Koski, S. Raverty, R. Kilabuk, and S. Ferguson. 2020. Observation of a bowhead whale carcass following a recent attack by killer whales in Cumberland Sound, Nunavut. Arctic Science 6(1): 53-61.

Agbayani, S., S. Fortune, A. Trites. gyaa028. Growth and development of North Pacific grey whales (Eschrichtius robustus). Journal of Mammalogy

Fortune, S., W. Koski, J. Higdon, A. Trites, M. Baumgartner, and S. Ferguson 2017. Evidence of molting and the function of “rock-nosing” behavior in bowhead whales in the eastern Canadian Arctic. PLoS ONE 12 (11): e0186156.

Reinhart, N., S. Fortune, P. Richard, and C. Matthews. 2014. Rare sightings of white-beaked dolphins (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) off southeastern Baffin Island, Canada. Marine Biodiversity Records 7:1-5.

Fortune, S., A. Trites, C. Mayo, D. Rosen, and P. Hamilton. 2013. Energetic requirements of North Atlantic right whales and the implications for species recovery. Marine Ecology Progress Series 478:253-272.

Fortune, S., A. Trites, W. Perryman, M. Moore, H. Pettis, and M. Lynn. 2012. Growth and rapid early development of North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis). Journal of Mammalogy 93:1342-1354.

Peer-reviewed reports 

Fortune, S. and A. Trites. 2014. COSEWIC Status Report on North Atlantic right whales in Canada. Prepared for Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. 

Research permits

Bowhead whale data collected under LSFP S-12/13-1014-NU (2012),  S-13/14-1009-NU, AUP FWI-ACC-2012-034 and FWI-ACC-2013-018. Killer whale data was collected under permits XMMS 6 2019 and A19-0053.

Research partners and funders