Why is an orca black and white?

In the marine world, when your back is dark and your belly is light, you are using a camouflage technique known as countershading. An animal swimming above you will not see your dark back as it will blend with the sea floor, or the unlit marine…

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Can breaching dams save endangered orcas?

Southern Resident killer whales hunt for salmon from British Columbia to California. Over the last century, the number of salmon produced in the rivers that feed these Pacific waters, including the Salish Sea, has fallen dramatically. Dams are one…

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Why do the whales have names and numbers, such as J2, Granny?

The Southern Resident killer whale community is formed of three pods known as J, K and L. The Center for Whale Research has documented these families since 1976, and gives each newborn witnessed alive a unique ID. The letter – J, K or L donates the…

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What would be the most effective set of actions to save the Southern Resident Orcas & achieve their recovery?

The No. 1 threat to these endangered orcas is lack of wild Chinook (King) salmon, as they each need 20 a day to stay healthy. This large, fatty fish is their main food supply, and they’ve been overfished, together with lost spawning habitat,…

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Why are Orcas called “Killer Whales” when they seem so friendly?

Like many species, killer whales were named during a time of exploration and fear of the great unknown. Sailors launched their vessels into a barely-explored ocean, and returned with tales of sea monsters, including “whale killers.” More than…

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Do orcas only eat Chinook? If so, why won’t they eat other salmon?

Southern Resident killer whales are salmon specialists: 80% of their diet is Chinook (or King salmon), but they do eat other salmon species, with coho at around 15%. Chinook salmon is the largest and fattiest of all the Pacific salmon and therefore…

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What is peanut-head?

When orcas lose weight, they lose fat from their blubber and if prolonged, this can eventually lead to a pronounced depression behind the blowhole, a condition known as “peanut-head”, as the head looks like an unshelled peanut. Such…

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What is considered to be the Southern Resident killer whale’s habitat or range?

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,…

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How long do killer whales live?

Lifespan varies between sexes in orcas; females can outlive males by as much as 20 years. Several female Southern Resident killer whales have lived to a presumed age of 80+ but only one male is known to have lived beyond 50 (J1, Ruffles). Over the…

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How many calves can a killer whale have in her lifetime?

Over the last few decades, the number of calves born in the Southern Resident killer whale population has been falling, as they struggle to find enough salmon to eat. Due to malnutrition, 69% of Southern Resident killer whale pregnancies are…

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Do killer whales migrate?

The short answer is yes, and no. Killer whales are one of the most widespread mammals on the planet. They exist in every ocean, yet each population has a unique diet and social structure, making them separate ecotypes. These differences (especially…

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Orcas can’t turn their heads to see each other, so how do they communicate?

Orcas have pretty good eyesight below and above water, and can often be seen spy hopping, where they raise their head vertically, apparently taking in their surroundings. However, as they live in an often murky underwater environment, communication…

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What are Bigg’s killer whales?

In the Pacific Northwest, orcas that hunt marine mammals were first described as “transients”, as they were rarely seen, and thought to be just transiting through. They later became known as Bigg’s, in honor of biologist Dr. Michael…

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Why do the pods have letter names?

These letters were first assigned to the two communities of fish-eating killer whales of the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s and were based on observed family relationships and association between the families, and their unique dialects and…

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Resident vs. Transient Orcas – What’s the Difference?

When studies of the orcas of the Pacific Northwest began in the 1970s, fish-eating orca pods were labeled “resident”, as they were seen regularly from April to September. On occasion, other smaller pods of orcas would come into the same…

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How do orcas communicate?

Orcas communicate through pulsed calls, and whistles and these form a unique dialect for a family. They express their identity through their cultural habits, and their prey choices are central to this, and so it shapes their language. Orca language…

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Do orcas grieve?

Orcas have large brains for their body size, and the region used for emotional intelligence is particularly well-developed. Southern Resident Killer Whales are a tightly bonded, close-knit community, who share a common language, traditions, and…

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Is a killer whale a whale or a dolphin?

Pods of orcas seen hunting large whales in the 18th Century earned them the name “whale killers”, which was later flipped to killer whales; but they’re actually the largest member of the dolphin family! The dolphin family—perhaps…

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What and where is the Salish Sea?

The Salish Sea—an inland sea—is one of the most biologically diverse inland waterways in the world. Geographically it stretches from north of Vancouver, Canada to south of Seattle, Washington. The Salish Sea encompasses the coastal waterways of the…

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Do Southern Resident orcas mate outside of their pod? Do they mate with transients?

In most wildlife communities, males leave the family and create territories of their own, often with a harem of females that they mate with. However, a male resident orca stays with his mother and siblings for life. Opportunities to mate occur when…

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How do killer whales sleep?

How do you sleep when you’re in a three-dimensional space like the ocean? To complicate this, breathing for killer whales is not an automatic function, as it is for us. Being mammals, they can only breathe at the surface, and must consciously open…

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What is the correct name? Orca or Killer Whale?

The answer is both! Orcinus orca is the Latin scientific name, while killer whale is its common name. Scientists interchangeably use orca and killer whale. Our past relationship with orcas has not always been as favorable as today. Beginning with…

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Is wild caught Alaskan salmon sustainable?

Many consumer guides to ocean-friendly seafood list wild-caught Alaska salmon as sustainable, and the entire fishery is certified sustainable to the standards of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). However, it is widely accepted that many of the…

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What kind of salmon should I be eating to help the whales?

Southern Resident killer whales primarily eat Chinook salmon. Chinook, also known as King Salmon, is the largest of the Pacific salmon, with the highest fat content and therefore has the highest calorie count essential for supporting the health of…

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Should we just ban fishing to provide more salmon for orcas?

It’s important to recognize that fishing alone is not the problem. Pacific salmon are struggling for many reasons, including historical overfishing, but their challenge to thrive is impacted by the loss of habitat in streams, rivers, and seas,…

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Why don’t hatcheries just produce more salmon for orcas?

Government-funded hatcheries have attempted to produce more salmon for everyone; as wild stocks declined, hatchery fish were intended to bridge the gap. Billions of hatchery-raised salmon have been released into the rivers of Washington State,…

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Will killing sealions fix the salmon problem?

It’s true that seals and sea lions do eat salmon, but it’s a very small portion of their diet, as they eat many other species. Marine mammals like these are important predators in the marine ecosystem, as they help to control disease in…

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Is overfishing responsible for the lack of salmon?

Salmon are amazing species, and one of just a handful of fishes on the planet that rely on fresh and saltwater habitats in their lifetime—up to 7 years for Chinook salmon. This unique lifestyle (known as anadromous) puts salmon at risk in both types…

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Why don’t Southern Resident killer whales eat something other than salmon?

The Southern Resident killer whales are fish specialists, and while they can eat a variety of fish, the majority of their diet is salmon, primarily Chinook as it is the fattiest and largest, and so provides the best bang for the buck. This unique…

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