In the Pacific Northwest, scientists recognize three different types of killer whale – referred to as “eco-types”: fish-eaters (resident), marine mammal specialists (transient), and presumed shark specialists (offshore).

When studies began in the 1970s, the fish-eating whales were named resident, due to the fact they were seen regularly from April to September. On occasion, other small families of orcas would come into the same waters, but due to the lack of regular sightings they became known as transients; these were not fish eaters, instead targeting seals and sea lions.

In recent years, with the continuing decline of Chinook salmon, the resident whales are spending less time in their traditional fishing grounds while they seek salmon in open waters. Transient whales, whose food is abundant are spending more time in the Salish Sea. If research started on these whales today, it’s possible the transient whales could be labeled resident!

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