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.

--Source: 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.

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Clockwise from top left: 1) Mountain gorillas. Photo: Andries3 (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/andriesoudshoorn 2) J pod Southern resident orcas – Photo: Miles Ritter (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrmritter/42903242165 3) Scientists collect orca breath samples. Photo: Pete Schroeder 4) Hawaiian monk seal. Photo: Karen Bryan/Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/papahanaumokuakea/38322932854
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Report cover
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A Hawaiian monk seal at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Photo by: Karen Bryan/Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/papahanaumokuakea/38322932854
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Left: mountain gorillas. Photo: Andries3 (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/andriesoudshoorn. Right: J pod southern resident orcas – Photo: Miles Ritter (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrmritter/42903242165
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Scientists in a boat use a long pole to capture the breath of an orca. Photo: Pete Schroeder
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When should medical experts intervene to save a killer whale?

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Southern resident killer whale breaching. Image courtesy of NOAA
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An orca show at Miami Seaquarium featuring southern-resident orca Lolita. Photo by Marc Averette. Avaiable through a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Ported license. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Miamiseaquariumlolita.jpg
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Orca captures for aquariums

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Balcomb, Ken. (2018). Center for Whale Research. Personal correspondence. 

Bigg, M. A., & Wolman, A. A. (1975). Live-capture killer whale (Orcinus orca) fishery, British Columbia and Washington, 1962–73. Journal of the Fisheries Board of Canada, 32(7), 1213-1221.

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Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and WA Governor Jay Inslee helped kick off the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle on April 4, 2018. Photo: Jeff Rice/PSI
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Southern Resident killer whales and boats. Photo courtesy of NOAA
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A young resident killer whale chases a chinook salmon in the Salish Sea near San Juan Island, WA. Sept 2017. Photo: (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/21wV8rV
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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
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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/
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Stimulus-dependent response to disturbance affecting the activity of killer whales

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Southern resident orcas. Photo: NOAA http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/killerwhale_photos.htm
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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.
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Salish Sea Hydrophone Network and Orca Network

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Southern Resident Killer Whales in Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of NOAA
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Acoustic quality of critical habitats for three threatened whale populations

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A "spy hopping" Southern Resident killer whale in the San Juan Islands. Image courtesy of NOAA.
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Orca whale in Puget Sound. Image courtesy of NOAA.
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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

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Killer whale (Orcinus orca). Photo by Joseph Gaydos.
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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

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Bigg's killer whales. Photo: copyright Monika Shields, with permission
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Bigg’s killer whales

Officially known as West Coast transients but increasingly referred to as Bigg’s killer whales, these marine mammal-eating orcas (Orcinus orca) are spending increasing time in the Salish Sea to consume their marine mammal prey including harbor seals, Steller sea lions, and harbor and Dall’s porpoise. They range from Southeast Alaska to California, but over the last 15 years more members of the population are spending increasing time in the inland waters of Washington State and British Columbia (Houghton et al. 2015, Shields et al. 2018). They have no predators (except perhaps occasionally other Bigg’s killer whales - see Towers et al. 2018), but are at risk from anthropogenic effects, including toxics and noise pollution (Ford et al. 2007).