© Natalie Bowes / WWF-Canada A southern resident Killer whale (Orcinus orca) leaping out of the waters of Haro Strait, British Columbia, Canada

SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALE

Listed as endangered in Canada and the United States, the Southern Resident killer whale population faces imminent threats to its survival and recovery in Canada.

About Southern Resident Killer Whales

Survival is increasingly uncertain for the awe-inspiring Southern Resident killer whale, also know as the orca. For years, pressures on these icons of the Pacific coast have been increasing. An orca calf born in January 2019 was the first successful birth in three years. Since 2016, 15 killer whales have been listed as missing and presumed dead. Today, only 72 of these endangered animals remain. Actions taken now will determine if the group can rebuild or will continue toward extinction.

Southern Resident Killer Whale Facts

Two Southern Resident Killer Whales poking their heads out of the water

Southern Resident Killer Whale

Endangered

Scientific Name:

Orcinus orca

Status:

Endangered

Endangered A wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or extinction.

Adult Weight:

Up to five tonnes

Diet:

Primarily chinook salmon

Population:

72 individuals

Range:

Southeastern Alaska to central California

Did You Know?

When Chinook is plentiful, orcas are known to produce calves. When there are less chinook, these whales are less likely to reproduce and experience more deaths.

Why are Southern Resident Killer Whales Important?

Southern Resident Killer Whales are culturally significant to west coast First Nations. They are also an iconic coastal species, loved by coastal residents and the general public.

Whales are at the top of the food chain and have an important role in structuring the ecosystems they are part of. They are an important indicator of ocean health. Whales also play a significant role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere, thus playing their part in the fight against climate change.

© Shutterstock A southern resident Killer whale leaping out of the waters

Threats

Southern Resident Killer Whales face a multitude of threats. The primary threat to this population of Orca is the inability to find sufficient food (Chinook salmon). Habitat disturbance and underwater noise from marine activities and vessels make it difficult for orcas to use echolocation which helps them find and hunt prey. Toxic contaminants in the water also affect the food supply and overall health of orcas.

Plus, ships and boats in the Salish Sea create underwater noise that makes it difficult for orcas to use echolocation, which helps them find and hunt salmon. Underwater noise is projected to grow significantly in coming years as the Port of Vancouver expands and proposed shipping projects get approved.

What WWF-Canada is Doing

Since 2011, WWF has been working to support quiet oceans for marine species on the Pacific coast, including the endangered killer whales. WWF has been working with governments, industry and other stakeholders to find solutions to underwater noise pollution. We continue to work on industry efforts, such as the Port of Vancouver’s ECHO program and Green Marine in order to find ways to cut underwater noise pollution.

In 2018, WWF and its conservation partners petitioned the federal government to enact an emergency order under the Species At Risk Act (SARA) to provide immediate protections for southern residents. WWF and its partners subsequently pursued legal action after deeming the response inadequate. Since 2019, the federal government has brought into place seasonal measures that restrict Chinook fishing and closing areas for foraging Southern Resident killer whales. The government has also enacted measures to reduce disturbance from small boats.

The shipping industry through the ECHO program has also undertaken efforts to reduce noise in feeding areas by reducing the speed at which ships are traveling. These measures along those enacted by the government are encouraging, but the population of southern residents continues to decline. Securing the survival of southern residents requires long term sustained efforts and actions to significantly reduce all threats on this population. Time is running out.

WWF and its partners will continue to push for both short and long-term solutions to reduce threats to Southern Resident killer whales.

© Natalie Bowes / WWF-Canada Close up of three southern resident Killer whales (Orcinus orca) moving through the waters at Active Pass, British Columbia, Canada

What You Can Do

Southern Resident killer whales are crtically endangered. Your donations can help support WWF’s work to reduce the threats facing Southern Resident killer whales.

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