Orcas
Number of Southern Resident killer whales
Southern Resident killer whales are a unique population of orcas that ranges in the Salish Sea and along the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada. These whales eat fish and depend heavily on Chinook salmon for food. In the late-1990s, Southern Resident killer whales experienced a dramatic decline. The combination of a precarious food supply and threats from pollution, vessel traffic, and noise continues to jeopardize their survival. As a result, they are federally listed as endangered.
Number of Southern Resident killer whales
By: Pods
Population size of Southern Resident killer whales each year between 1973 and 2020, based on the annual July census, conducted by the Center for Whale Research. The Southern Resident Killer Whale population in Puget Sound is comprised of three pods: J, K, and L pods.

Key Vital Sign Indicator Results

The status of the Southern Resident killer whale population remains fragile. In 2010, the Partnership’s baseline reference, the census reported 86 individuals, and every year since then the population size has been smaller, except in 2011. Given recent population projections, this population will not meet the 2020 target.

  • The July 2020 census led by the Center for Whale Research reported 72 whales, down from 73 in 2019, 75 in 2018 and 77 whales in 2016.
  • Three new calves were born since the 2020 census (two were first seen in September after the 2020 summer census, the third was first seen in February 2021) and additional pregnant females have been reported.
  • The status of this endangered population continues to signal a struggle for survival. K pod, the smallest of the pods, has not had a calf born since 2011. A significant level of unsuccessful pregnancies (75% on average) point to lack of adequate food as a main stressor. Finally, nearly half of the calves do not survive to maturity.
  • Recovery of the population depends on increasing availability and access to its main prey—Chinook salmon populations in the Salish Sea and along the West Coast. Puget Sound Chinook salmon is a threatened population and the subject of many recovery actions. Contaminants in juvenile and adult Chinook salmon are other key indicators for Puget Sound as well as estuary and floodplain habitat restoration.

Contributing Partners

Recovery Target

By 2020, achieve an end-of-year census of 95 individual Southern Resident Killer Whales, which would represent a 1 percent annual average growth rate from 2010 to 2020.

Data Source

Annual Census as reported to National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) by the Center for Whale Research

Methods and More Results
Last Updated
3/8/2021