Killer whales

"Killer whales are distributed throughout the marine waters of Washington. Four populations are recognized and are referred to as southern residents, northern residents, transients, and offshores."

--Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Killer whale (Orcinus orca). Photo courtesy of NOAA.

OVERVIEW

Killer whales in Puget Sound

Three distinct groups of killer whales (Orcinus orca) occupy the coastal waters of the northeastern Pacific. These groups—northern and southern residents, transients, and offshores—are distinguished by diet, behavior, morphology, and other characteristics. Among these, Southern Resident and transient killer whales commonly are found in Puget Sound. Northern residents and offshore killer whales rarely enter Puget Sound (Wiles 2004, Kriete 2007), and therefore are not described in detail here.

RELATED ARTICLES

Sea lion sunbathing between meals in Seattle's Eliott Bay. Photo: Johnny Mumbles (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mumbles/3283168713
1/25/2017

Study says predators may play major role in chinook salmon declines

A new study shows that increased populations of seals and sea lions are eating far more of Puget Sound’s threatened chinook than previously known, potentially hampering recovery efforts for both salmon and endangered killer whales. 

Photogrammetry image of an adult female Southern Resident (J16) as she’s about to surface with her youngest calf, born earlier in 2015, alongside. Photo: NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium
7/20/2016

Killer whale miscarriages linked to low food supply

New techniques for studying orcas have been credited with breakthroughs in reproductive and developmental research. Drones and hormone-sniffing dogs are helping scientists connect declines in food supply with low birth rates and poor health. Update: The research described in this 2016 article has now been published in the 6/29/17 issue of the journal PLOS ONE. 

Puget Sound's orcas are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world. Photo: Minette Layne (CC-BY-2.0) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killer_whale#/media/File:Orca_porpoising.jpg
5/18/2016

New theory rethinks spread of PCBs and other toxics in Puget Sound

Researchers are proposing a shift in thinking about how some of the region’s most damaging pollutants enter Puget Sound species like herring, salmon and orcas.

A 6-year-old killer whale from L pod, known as L-73, chases a Dall’s porpoise in this historical photo taken in 1992. Photo: Debbie Dorand/Center for Whale Research
4/14/2016

Resident killer whales sometimes attack porpoises but never eat them

The mysterious practice of killing porpoises may have a useful function, but it has yet to be fully explained, according to orca researcher Deborah Giles.

Mist from the breath of killer whales is collected at the end of a long pole then tested for dozens of different types of bacteria. Photo: Pete Schroeder
1/13/2016

Going viral: Concerns rise over potential impacts of disease on the ecosystem

From orcas to starfish to humans, disease affects every living creature in the ecosystem. Scientists are increasingly alarmed by its potential to devastate already compromised populations of species in Puget Sound.  

18-year-old L92 Crewser male resident orca, born 1995, and kayaker. Photo: Andrew Reding (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/seaotter/9259744196/
1/21/2015

Stimulus-dependent response to disturbance affecting the activity of killer whales

A 2015 paper presented to the International Whaling Commission compares the impacts of kayaks and powerboats on killer whale populations.

Southern resident orcas. Photo: NOAA http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/killerwhale_photos.htm
10/28/2014

Seeking higher calories for Puget Sound killer whales

A 2014 paper decribes how monitoring the energy density of key Pacific salmon species could affect the recovery of northern and southern killer whales through fisheries management.

Salish Sea Hydrophone Network locations and 2011
 orca sightings from the Orca Network Whale Sightings Network. Source: Salish Sea Hydrophone Network and Orca Network.
2/11/2014

Salish Sea Hydrophone Network and Orca Network

The Salish Sea Hydrophone Network and Orca Network are two citizen science projects dedicated to furthering our understanding of abundance, distribution, behavior, and habitat use by the endangered population of Southern Resident Killer Whales, also called orcas. The Hydrophone Network lets the public listen for orcas through their computers and phones, while the Orca Network gathers and disseminates sightings of orcas as they move between Puget Sound, the Fraser River, and the Pacific Ocean.

Southern Resident Killer Whales in Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of NOAA
12/30/2013

Acoustic quality of critical habitats for three threatened whale populations

A 2013 article in the journal Animal Conservation compares the effects of increasing anthropogenic noise to habitat loss for endangered fin, humpback and killer whales in the Salish Sea.

A "spy hopping" Southern Resident killer whale in the San Juan Islands. Image courtesy of NOAA.
7/30/2013

Report: Potential effects of PBDEs on Puget Sound and Southern Resident Killer Whales

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 and the National Marine Fisheries Service Northwest Region have released a report describing results from a series of technical workgroups about the potential effects of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) on Puget Sound and Southern Resident killer whales.

Orca whale in Puget Sound. Image courtesy of NOAA.
6/20/2013

Paper: Spatial and temporal analysis of killer whale (Orcinus orca) strandings in the North Pacific Ocean and the benefits of a coordinated stranding response protocol

A new paper by Puget Sound area scientists from the SeaDoc Society and their collaborators represents the most complete summary to date of killer whale (Orcinus orca) strandings in the North Pacific. The authors analyzed stranding records dating back to 1925, obtained from scientists worldwide, finding that very few whales are stranded (an average of ten a year over the last twenty years). However, most of those strandings result in death. Only 12% of stranded whales survive.

Killer whale (Orcinus orca). Photo by Joseph Gaydos.
5/23/2013

Report: Washington State status report for the Killer Whale

This 2004 report looks at the status of Washington's four killer whale populations.

Photo courtesy of NOAA
12/12/2012

Report: The effects of salmon fisheries on Southern Resident Killer Whales

A recent report by an independent science panel reviewed data on the effects of salmon fisheries on Southern Resident Killer Whale populations. The report was released on November 30, 2012 and was commissioned by NOAA Fisheries and Oceans Canada.