In the Pacific Northwest, orcas that hunt marine mammals were first described as “transients”, as they were rarely seen. Later, they also became known as Bigg’s killer whales, in honor of biologist Michael Bigg, who was the first to recognize that individual killer whales could be identified by the unique patterns and scars on the saddle patch, the gray area behind the dorsal fin.

Prior to this, the total number of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest was unknown and was overestimated, with an assumption that different whales were always being seen, when in fact it was smaller groups seen regularly. The work to document the Northern and Southern Resident killer whales led to a ban against capturing orcas in these waters for captivity due to the severe impact on their populations.

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