Wild Orca operating under NMFS permit 26288.

Giles—one name—like Beyonce or Bowie, is what she prefers to be called, both by friends and colleagues alike.  To be identified as “Dr. Deborah Giles,” or, “a leading killer whale biologist and Southern Resident expert” is just too formal for those she considers family—and if you care about saving the Southern Resident killer whales, she treats you like family.  Make no mistake, she has more than earned her myriad of degrees, titles, and publications, but they have all served a singular purpose: dedicating her life to protecting this unique population of killer whales.

Rewind to her 18th birthday. It was on a road trip to the San Juan Islands from her hometown of Sacramento that she first met these endangered killer whales face to face. This encounter that changed her life, and altered her path, and on that day she knew she would steer her vessel toward safeguarding their future.

Today she steers a literal vessel, Wild Orca’s research boat—named Cheena in memory of a cherished canine companion. Also on board are husband Jim, and of course Eba the Whale Dog, a local celebrity on the streets of Friday Harbor.  It’s here, from an island in the heart of the Salish Sea that Giles does much of her critical research—monitoring the Southern Resident killer whales’ health.

What began as childhood dreams not only became her career, but her calling. After completing her undergraduate degree, she became a research assistant and began her graduate study, specializing in conservation biology and whale behavior, focused primarily on the Southern Resident killer whales. Completing her master’s degree in just 3 years, she pushed on with a Ph.D. while working as a research scientist with NOAA, and also with the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington.  Today, she is one of only a handful of scientists to have focused almost exclusively on this unique population, making her a leading expert on these whales, invaluable for her advisory positions with conservation groups, as well as state and local government and her island community.

Giles’ lifework is multifaceted: a lot of her time is spent on the water, observing the whales’ behavior, and improving non-invasive health monitoring techniques. She collaborates with colleagues to further understand health impacts from lack of prey, contaminants in their environment and vessel disturbance. Off the water, she’s a tireless vocal advocate, testifying at hearings, and public meetings, or acting as an expert witness in a lawsuit: whatever can affect change for these whales who she views as “better versions of ourselves.”

She isn’t one to play favorites, but does feel especially drawn to K20 Spock, also a girl with a boy’s name!  When Giles isn’t busy being a voice for Spock’s pod and her entire community, she has the most fun hiking and camping the old-fashioned way – in a tent – with Jim and Eba, who’s unbridled joy for camping is on par with Giles’ love of chips n salsa, but not her reverence for whales.

Take Action for

Endangered Killer Whales

U.S. must mirror Canada’s bold plan to save endangered orcas

Canada has a bold new plan to try to save Pacific salmon from extinction, which would also help safeguard a future for the endangered Southern Resident killer whales. What's the catch? Without a U.S. plan, how can they succeed?

Act Now

U.S. must mirror Canada’s bold plan to save endangered orcas

Canada has a bold new plan to try to save Pacific salmon from extinction, which would also help safeguard a future for the endangered Southern Resident killer whales. What's the catch? Without a U.S. plan, how can they succeed?

Act Now

Action Guide

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