Center for whale research

Protecting whales in the Pacific Northwest
<em>Edit Conservation Project/Cause</em> Orca Network - Protecting whales in the Pacific Northwest  | Holly Cannon
Whales in the PNW specifically the Salish sea are critically threatened. Killer whales are found in every ocean, but they are segmented into many small populations, at least two of which are likely separate species, that differ genetically, as well as in appearance, behavior, social structure, feeding strategies and vocalizations. The so-called “Resident” killer whales are fish eaters found along the coasts on both sides of the North Pacific. In the eastern North Pacific, there are three populations of Resident killer whales: Alaska Residents, Northern Residents, and Southern Residents. The Southern Residents, which comprise the smallest of the ‘resident’ populations, are found mostly off British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, but also travel to forage widely along the outer coast. Southern Residents are Chinook salmon specialists. They feed on Chinook year-round, and it is their primary prey in spring and summer when they occupy inland waters. During the fall and winter, when Southern Residents disperse widely, they add other salmon species (Coho in fall and chum in winter) and some demersal fishes to their diet (e.g., halibut and lingcod). Resident killer whales associate in stable matriarchal social units called ‘pods’. There are three pods for Southern Resident killer whales, called the J, K, and L pods. The ongoing decline of the Southern Resident killer whale population over the last 20 years is most likely due to three distinct threats: decreased quantity and quality of prey, the presence of persistent organic pollutants, and disturbance from vessel presence and noise. In addition to federal conservation action by the National Marine Fisheries Service and Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the state of Washington has dedicated considerable effort to reducing the threats faced by the whales. In 2018, Washington Governor Inslee created the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force to assist the state in identifying, prioritizing and supporting the implementation of an action plan for the recovery of Southern Resident killer whales. At all levels of government, stakeholders are working to reduce impediments to salmon recovery, decrease inputs of pollutants to the marine system, and manage vessel activity in their preferred habitat.
Friday, 15 July, 2022

For three decades, the Center for Whale Research (CWR) has been advocating the relatively tame issue of salmon recovery based on science and rational management of fisheries in the Pacific Northwest. We have been championing with facts the impacts of dwindling fish stocks on the Southern Resident killer whales [SRKW orcas] and Salish Sea fishers. Since 1976 the Center for Whale Research (CWR) has been the leading organization studying the Southern Resident killer whales in their critical habitat: the Salish Sea. CWR performs health assessments to ensure the viability of the whale population, informing elected officials of their ecosystem needs, and sharing the whales’ story with the world. Our 46 years of research has created the only long-term data set about the behavior, health, and social dynamics of the Southern Resident killer whales.


The Center for Whale Research is the leading voice for the gravely endangered Southern Resident killer whales (orcas), having generated over four decades of scientific research and health assessments. This work has been used to inform decision-makers and elected officials about the whales' ecosystem requirements to ensure the future viability of this playful, social, and beloved population of animals. CWR's unique on-the-water research approach entails recording information through whale encounters that provide essential social, demographic, health, and geographic information. CWR offers this information to U.S. and Canadian government agencies annually for conservation and management purposes.

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