Orcas
Southern Resident Killer Whales once numbered around 200 whales, but in the past decade the population has totaled fewer than 90 individuals.
Indicator Lead: Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research
Data last updated on March 16, 2016
Photo Credit: Michael Feist

Importance to Puget Sound recovery

Killer whales, also called orcas, are among Puget Sound’s most distinctive and charismatic inhabitants. They occupy an important niche at the top of the food web and support a multi-million dollar whale-watching industry.

Southern Resident Killer Whales are a unique population of orcas that ranges in the Salish Sea and the West Coast. While other orca populations prey heavily on marine mammals, this population primarily eats fish, and depends heavily on Chinook salmon for food.

In the late-1990s, Southern Resident Killer Whales experienced a dramatic decline in population size. As a result, this population was federally listed as endangered in 2006.

What you can do

  1. Observe the appropriate distances and do not intentionally disturb orcas when boating or participating in other recreational activities.
  2. Familiarize yourself, family and friends with individual Puget Sound orcas, and follow their travels on the Orca Network.
  3. Look for orcas from land with help from the Whale Trail, and listen to them at the Salish Sea Hydrophone Network.
  4. Engage in citizen science by alerting researchers at the Orca Network or the Salish Sea Hydrophone Network when you spot orcas, so scientists can track their travel.
  5. Take a day out to go on a responsibly managed whale-watching trip.
  6. Support salmon recovery in Puget Sound – orcas especially like to feed on Chinook salmon.

What our partners are doing

View Near Term Actions helping to advance this Vital Sign

Links for more information

Center for Whale Research
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries West Coast Region
10-Years of Research and Conservation Report
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Northwest Fisheries Science Center
Satellite tagging project
Orca Network
Orca Salmon Alliance
Orcas in Puget Sound: Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership Tech Report 2007-01
J32 preliminary necropsy report
J-32 necropsy results from Fisheries and Oceans Canada