The Orca Connection

orca.kitsapThe Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) of Washington State's Puget Sound amd Salish Sea are a critical part of the Northwest ecosystem and economy. They are apex predators, much-loved icons of Washington State that generate tens of millions in tourism dollars every year. They are also officially "endangered" and face severe threats to their survival. A top problem for the SRKWs is a lack of an adequate prey base - chinook salmon.

Despite having learned much about these imperiled whales in the last decade, NOAA has made precious little actual progress to meet their essential needs. The Columbia Basin — and the Snake River watershed in particular — that holds the greatest promise for restoring significant numbers of chinook in the near-term. For this reason, orca scientists and advocates increasingly support calls to remove the four costly lower Snake River dams.

No other Northwest chinook restoration proposal offers such potential. Investing in a healthy, free-flowing lower Snake River will restore salmon’s spawning access to more than 5,500 high-quality river and stream miles and produce hundreds of thousands more chinook to help southern resident killer whales survive and rebuild. Save Our wild Salmon looks forward to the opportunity to work with the people of Washington State and beyond to craft a plan that restores the Snake River and serves orcas, salmon and our communities on both sides of the Cascades.

Read the articles and posts for additional information on how these two critical Northwest species are connected. The orcas are starving

orca.drone1by David Neiwert on Friday, June 24, 2016

Vancouver photographer Mark Malleson took this photograph of the Southern Resident killer whale known as J-34, or Doublestuf, breaching while he was in the interior waters of the Salish Sea this spring. It’s a remarkable and frightening photo for orca lovers, because the male orca’s ribs appear to be protruding prominently.

That’s abnormal, especially for a resident killer whale at this time of year, when the orcas are typically well fed after a winter of preying on Chinook salmon. And so Malleson’s photo set off a number of alarm bells in the Northwest whale-watching community as it circulated on social media.

Subsequent photos taken of J-34 and his pod from a scientific drone suggested that, while the whales weren’t particularly plump, their girth was within their normal range. Nonetheless, veteran whale scientist Ken Balcomb is blunt about what he is seeing for the Southern Residents long- term: “These whales are starving,” he says. “There simply aren’t enough salmon out there for them to eat.”

Balcomb and the crew at San Juan Island’s Center for Whale Research have been observing the Southern Residents foraging this winter and spring, and the behavior has been disconcerting: The whales are much more spread out, meaning they are having to forage harder for individual fish. Many of them appear underfed, he says. It’s an especially alarming development following last year’s “baby boom,” in which nine new calves were born into the population, one of whom has apparently already vanished and is presumed dead.



You're invited to a very special evening of storytelling about orca and salmon by three renowned writers and storytellers from the Pacific Northwest. The evening includes a reception with excellent food and drinks. We hope that you can join us!

To help celebrate Orca Awareness Month and raise awareness and understanding about the majesty of and peril facing our iconic Sourthern Resident Killer Whales and Chinook Salmon, Save Our wild Salmon, Center for Whale Research, Earthjustice, and Natural Resources Defense Council are hosting a special evening featuring authors David Neiwert and Brenda Peterson, and Elwha Storyteller Roger Fernandes

Orca and Salmon - An Evening of Storytelling

Town Hall Seattle

Wednesday, June 29 at 6 pm - 9 pm

Our delicious reception will be catered by Kevin Davis / Blueacre Seafood. Beer will be provided by Fremont Brewing Company. We'll also serve wine and non-alcoholic beverages.

Tickets are $20 per person, with a $10 student, senior, limited income option available.



NRDC Blog: To Save Orcas, First Save Salmon

Southern Resident orcas face many threats in the Northwest, but giving them more salmon could remedy most of them.

May 26, 2016

Brian Palmer

wlds27 bcae9w 2400Southern Resident orcas—a group of killer whales that stay close to the Pacific Northwest coast—are slumping toward extinction. There were 86 members when the population was listed as endangered in 2005. After more than a decade of government protection—or what passes as protection—there are 83 left.

Like most endangered animals, these orcas face several threats. Industrial chemicals accumulate in their bodies and inhibit reproduction. Shipping noise <>  frequently drives the whales from their habitat, preventing them from foraging, mating, and raising their young. If these were the orcas’ only problems, they could probably manage. But a dramatic dip in numbers of Chinook salmon, which make up as much as 80 percent of the Southern Residents’ diet, has intensified the impacts of pollution and ocean noise on the orca population’s growth rate. The whales simply won’t be able to recover without more salmon.

But replenishing the Chinook supply in the Pacific Northwest is much easier said than done. Dams, especially along the lower Snake River, make it nearly impossible <>  for the fish to complete their normal migration patterns. Climate change exacerbates the challenges of their journey, as the salmon fight to survive in the hot, slow-moving water behind the dams. Not enough wild Chinook are reaching their historical spawning grounds at the higher elevations, where the water remains within the temperature range the fish are adapted to. As a result, the upper Snake River Chinook salmon population is down more than 75 percent compared with their numbers in the pre-dam era.


Defenders Magazine: Looking for a Sound Solution

Compromised by pollution, with their fate tied to a fish, the orcas of Puget Sound struggle to hang on

By Daniel Jack Chasan

magaizine-spring-2016-orca-dave-ellifrit-center-for-whale-research-nmfs-permit-15569-dfo-sara-272 A big, green-and-white ferry veers, slows and then stops almost dead in the waters of Puget Sound, where, just around the point, the skyscrapers of downtown Seattle soar. To the west, the Olympic Mountains rise behind the low islands and fir-darkened shore, and to the south stands Mt. Rainier’s 14,000-foot snowy cone. But no one’s looking at the scenery. The captain has just announced that a pod of killer whales is heading north. Commuters, school kids and other passengers rush to the port-side windows. Black dorsal fins break the choppy water. Sleek black-and-white bodies curve up into daylight and back down below the waves. Some leap clear of the water, exciting all the passengers.

Also called orcas—a shortened version of their Latin name—these marine mammals are icons in the Puget Sound area. Technically, this population is called southern resident killer whales. But they are not really whales. They are the largest members of the dolphin family. The name killer whales, twisted in translation, comes from Spanish whalers who saw them hunt whales and dubbed them whale killers.

Orcas live in every ocean, traveling in close family groups known as pods. Many are doing fine, but the southern resident population—protected under the Endangered Species Act since 2005—is clearly in trouble with a population that numbers only in the 80s.

Genetically distinct for 700,000 years, they do not breed with other populations and are culturally distinct as well. The southern residents communicate in their own dialect and dine almost exclusively on salmon. Other populations with overlapping ranges eat marine mammals, sharks, rays and more.



For more information, contact Rachael Carrell at:

Orca Month 2016 on Facebook

Orca Salmon Alliance


Seattle Times Guest Opinion: Hungry killer whales waiting for Columbia River salmon

orca eating salmon CFWRMarch 31, 2016

By Deborah A. Giles, Giulia Good Stefani

Special to The Times

RIGHT now, southern-resident killer whales circle the waters off the mouth of the Columbia River eager to score their favorite meal — a fat spring chinook salmon. It’s late March and the Pacific Northwest’s rivers should be a surge of snowmelt and salmon. But they aren’t.

The southern-resident killer whales are on the brink of extinction because they can’t find enough food. With eight new calves — the biggest baby boom this population has seen in almost 40 years — the moment to help our iconic blackfish is today.

What can we do? The whales are showing us: We need to focus on Columbia Basin salmon.

Last summer was a disaster for salmon and a shocking look into the possible future of Columbia and Snake River fisheries. Last July, reports emerged that more than a quarter million sockeye returning from the ocean had died as a result of high water temperatures in the Columbia and Snake rivers. In the end, 96 percent of returning endangered Snake River sockeye died before reaching Lower Granite Dam.


More Articles...

  1. Jan 24, 2016 - Seattle Times: Puget Sound orca numbers rise fast after 30-year low in 2014
  2. Dec 07, 2015 - CBC: Orca baby boom: 7th calf born to endangered southern resident population
  3. Nov 16, 2015 - To save the orcas, do we need to demolish dams?
  4. Nov 06, 2015 - Huff Post: Newborn Orca 'Baby Boom' Depends Upon Our Breaching Deadbeat Dams
  5. Oct 28, 2015 - Daily Astorian Editorial: Orcas growing factor in Columbia River salmon management
  6. Oct 22, 2015 - KOMO TV: Interview with Dr. Carl Safina on the Orca-Salmon Connection
  7. Oct 22, 2015 - Seattle Times: Puget Sound’s killer whales looking good
  8. Oct 08, 2015 - Skagit Valley Herald: New alliance has big goals for salmon, orca recovery
  9. Aug 21, 2015 - Patagonia's The Cleanest Line: Save Money, Save Salmon, Save Mike: Free the Snake
  10. Jun 17, 2015 - Nat Geo Guest Blog: Breach the Snake River Dams
  11. Jun 05, 2015 - The Daily Astorian: Orcas back at Columbia River as 2015 tracking ends
  12. May 21, 2015 - WDC Guest Blog: Southern Resident Orcas and the Snake River
  13. Apr 01, 2015 - Seattle Times: Orca baby boom continues with discovery of fourth calf
  14. Mar 04, 2015 - Seattle Times: Researchers tracking killer whales took this video of a new calf from the endangered orca population
  15. Mar 04, 2015 - Chinook Observer: Animal roundup: Baby orca leads a parade of returning species
  16. Mar 04, 2015 - Chinook Observer: Baby orca in the Columbia River plume this week
  17. Feb 28, 2015 - Guest Opinion: Survival of endangered orcas in the Salish Sea depends on restoring chinook
  18. Feb 24, 2015 - Lewiston Tribune: Whale concerns prompt dam petition
  19. Feb 20, 2015 - Kitsap Sun: K and L pods under observation as they travel south in ocean
  20. Feb 18, 2015 - Islander Weekly: Dam removal initiative finds footing in DC
  21. Dec 22, 2014 - Seattle Times: Ten years after ESA listing, killer whale numbers falling
  22. Dec 16, 2014 - CBS News: Pregnant killer whale J-32 was starving, necropsy reveals
  23. Oct 22, 2014 - Seattle Times: 7-week-old baby orca missing, presumed dead
  24. Jul 07, 2014 - KING 5 TV: Orca expert's dire warning about Puget Sound orcas
  25. Feb 03, 2014 - New study connects Puget Sound orcas and Columbia Basin salmon
  26. Jan 15, 2014 - Orca advocates, businesses and scientists call on Governor Inslee to take action to rebuild endangered chinook salmon stocks
  27. Apr 10, 2013 - Watching Our Waterways: Orca tracking project comes to an end for now
  28. Mar 05, 2013 - Revealing new data shows killer whales' affinity for the Columbia River mouth
  29. Jun 21, 2010 - June is Orca Month - Check out the new video on salmon and orcas
  30. Dec 29, 2009 - Orcas and Salmon Roundup by Howard Garrett: Will The Present Administration Act In Behalf Of Orcas And Salmon?
  31. Dec 01, 2009 - "Commercial Fisheries, Salmon, and Orcas" - by Candace Calloway Whiting in the Seattle PI's City Brights
  32. Nov 17, 2009 - "River of Renewal"- Salmon, Dams, Orcas, and You
  33. Jun 10, 2009 - Orca Awareness Month
  34. Mar 03, 2009 - Saving Snake River salmon will save Puget Sound killer whales
  35. May 02, 2008 - Seattle Times Guest columnists: Connect the dots to save orcas, salmon
Save Our wild Salmon is a diverse, nationwide coalition working together to restore wild salmon and steelhead to the rivers, streams and marine waters of the Pacific Northwest for the benefit of our region's ecology, economy and culture.



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