The best scientific data available shows that Southern Resident killer whales’ habitat—also known as their range—is from Haida Gwaii in British Columbia to Monterey California. Though in 2007, they were seen in SE Alaska! In addition, they regularly visit the inland waters of the Salish Sea, including Puget Sound near Seattle.

These orcas rely very heavily on habitat from Cape Flattery, Washington to Point Sur, California because they have evolved to match their movements with the seasonal runs of their primary prey, Chinook salmon. At Wild Orca we are advocating for this area to be designated as “critical habitat” for the Southern Resident killer whales.

Other populations of orcas overlapping in range with the Southern Resident killer whales are the Northern Resident killer whales, the Bigg’s killer whales—also known as “Transients”, and Offshore killer whales.

Northern Residents are also salmon-specialists. Their home range is primarily from northern Vancouver Island, up to south-east Alaska. On occasion, they have come south into the Salish Sea. While the Northern and Southern Residents do share some waters, they are seldom witnessed in the same area at the same time.

Similarly, there are two populations of transient killer whales that overlap with the range of the Southern Resident killer whales, but also seem to avoid being in the same area at the same time; some pods spend move between the Salish Sea and the inland waters of British Columbia, and other pods that spend most of their time off the California Coast. These populations only eat marine mammals, and therefore their movements are likely linked to the presence of seals, sea lions, porpoises, and migrating whales.

Offshores are thought to have the largest range of any killer whales in the world, spending most of their time well offshore and rarely coming in sight of land. They are thought to be shark specialists, though very little is known about them.

Range signifies is the habitats, species and locations a population depends on. This is relevant to the Southern Resident killer whales because the Endangered Species Act states that, “critical habitat will be designated for endangered and threatened species, based on the best scientific data available.”

Currently, only the Salish Sea is protected as critical habitat for these whales, which is only a fraction of their range. We know what the data says, now it’s time to protect ALL their habitat!