Bigg’s 201: An Adult Whale Research Experience

In this 4.5 month course combining virtual lectures and in-person field trips, you will work with whale biologist Monika Wieland Shields of the Orca Behavior Institute to improve your scientific literacy by doing a deep dive to learn more about Bigg’s killer whales of the Salish Sea. Regardless of your background, this class will help you practice reading and understanding scientific papers, give you a chance to try collecting whale behavioral data in the field, and let you explore real-world sightings data to create graphs and maps as you follow a specific Bigg’s family group. In addition to bi-weekly sessions on Zoom, the class includes five boat trips and culminates with an in-person presentation where you can practice what you’ve learned about how to communicate science effectively. If you ever wondered what a career in marine biology might be like or you want to take your understanding of killer whales to the next level, this is the course for you!

2024 Class Dates – Virtual Version (Sign up here)
Includes the same online content as the full class but only one boat trip

Virtual Sessions (7-9 PM PST)
Monday, January 15
Tuesday, January 16
Monday, January 22
Monday, February 5
Monday, February 19
Monday, March 4
Monday, March 18
Monday, April 1
Monday, April 15
Monday, April 29
Monday, May 6
Final Presentations (virtual or in-person) and boat trip from Anacortes, Washington: Sunday, May 12

2024 Class Dates – Full Version (SOLD OUT) Get on the wait list here
Includes online sessions and five in-person boat trips

Virtual Sessions (all 7-9 PM PST)
Monday, January 8
Tuesday, January 9
Tuesday, January 23
Tuesday, February 6
Tuesday, February 20
Tuesday, March 5
Tuesday, March 19
Tuesday, April 2
Tuesday, April 16
Tuesday, April 30
Tuesday, May 7

Boat Trips
Saturday, March 2 – Anacortes, WA
Saturday, March 23 – Friday Harbor, WA*
Saturday, April 13 – Anacortes, WA
Saturday, April 27 – Anacortes, WA
Saturday, May 11 – Anacortes, WA**

* This full day in Friday Harbor will include a visit to the Orca Survey Center

** Preceded by final class presentations and includes the 80% virtual students

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is this course for?

This course is for anyone 18 and older who wants to:

  • Expand their knowledge of Bigg’s killer whales
  • Improve their scientific literacy
  • Learn what scientists do to take a research project from start to finish
  • Be able to read and understand scientific papers
  • Experience field research
  • Communicate effectively about science
What are the prerequisites?

There are no specific prerequisites other than a willingness to learn, challenge yourself, and engage with others on throughout this educational experience. No specific scientific background is needed; in fact, we anticipate that everyone’s unique backgrounds will enrich the experience for everyone. The general expectation is that students will spend 1-2 hours on class assignments in between sessions.

While the class will begin with a review of basic orca biology and life history, this is considered a more advanced class for those with existing basic orca knowledge, rather than an introductory class for those just learning about orcas for the first time. The Salish Sea School is offering an alternative class that may be a better fit for those seeking an introductory level course.

Students will need to secure their own transportation to and from the in-person boat trips that depart from Anacortes and Friday Harbor, though instructors will assist in planning trip logistics.

What’s included in the course?
  • 11 two-hour virtual Zoom sessions with Monika Wieland Shields including lectures, group discussions, and plenty of time for Q&A
  • 5 boat trips with your instructors (4 from Anacortes, 1 from Friday Harbor)
    • Including a highlight video of each excursion!
  • Class binder mailed to you before the first session
  • Access to 5 years of OBI’s real-world sightings data on a specific family group of Bigg’s killer whales
  • Commemorative class T-shirt
  • Community Discord server to connect with instructors and students between class sessions (and a tutorial on how to use Discord if it’s new to you!)
  • The opportunity to practice everything you’ve learned through a final in-person presentation with your classmates
What does it cost and how do I sign up?

There are two options for this class: the full version and the 80% virtual version. The full version includes all 5 boat trips and costs $1850. The 80% virtual version includes all Zoom lectures but ONLY a final boat trip and costs $1200; this option is designed for those who may live further away but still want to fully participate in the virtual portion of the class.

The full version is currently SOLD OUT. You can sign up for the wait list for our full version here.

You can sign up for the virtual version of the class here.

Splitting the class fee into 2 or 3 equal payments is also an option, though a 2.9% transaction fee per payment will be assessed if paying online. Please contact to inquire about the payment plan.

Testimonials from 2023 students

Everything has been so new and amazing for me: learning Bigg’s families, tracking the sightings, reading scientific papers, learn how to display data through maps/charts, getting data in the field, etc…
Every class is better than the previous one, and I keep learning and getting more excited about killer whales every month.

Everything about this class exceeded my expectations…Every [session] I feel like I learned something interesting, different, and new.

This class created the space for me to experience things I wouldn’t normally find myself doing.”

Join us on the adventure