The Southern Resident Orca population is at just 73 individuals, they make up 3 Pods - J, K & L.
What are the Southern Resident Orca population?
The Southern Resident orcas are 3 pods of orcas (also known as killer whales) who live in the ocean off the coast of British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, and occasionally off Alaska or California. These pods feed almost exclusively on Chinook salmon year-round, but during the colder months in winter and fall they will feed on other salmon species.
The 3 Southern Resident pods (known as pod J, pod K and pod L) all differ in a number of different ways, including pod size, dialect and home ranges. Within each of the pods there are several family units, each descended from a single female ancestor. These units are called matrilines, and are typically each composed of an adult female, the “matriarch”, and her offspring. In several cases, although the matriarch has died, the family unit has remained together.
They feed almost exclusively off Chinook salmon year-round. Because these salmon stocks are dwindling, it is becoming harder and harder for the SR Orcas to find food. With new reports suggesting that the lack of Chinook salmon is even affecting and stunting the growth of these orcas. Another new study suggests that it is possible that other Resident Orcas, such as the Northern Resident Orcas, are stealing the larger Chinook salmon and leaving the smaller salmon for the SR Orcas.
They are also susceptible to noise pollution from ships, as this can affect their ability to use echolocation to hunt for their prey. As well as chemical pollution which can impact the orcas immune system. This coupled with the lack of their prey, Chinook salmon, has put a strain on the population. Some recent research has even found that two-thirds of orca pregnancies fail due to nutritional stress.
What Can Be Done?
With the lack of Chinook salmon having such a devastating impact on Southern Resident Orcas, it is clear that something needs to be done to increase their numbers. The breaching of Lower Snake River dams has been debated for the last four years, with the final decision made earlier this year in Washington. Multiple groups were involved in the debates, including indigenous tribes, fishermen, power producers and renewable energy advocates and ultimately the decision was made to keep the dams in place though the plans in place have included more spill over the dam to encourage more juvenile fish to migrate to the Pacific ocean. It is worth noting that this debate is not likely over and could be brought back again down the line, especially if things don't improve.
Oceana has set up a petition to introduce 15,600 miles protection for critical orca habitat. The hope is that by protecting their habitat from ship noises and pollution we can ensuring their survival, removing these extra strains will help to improve the Southern Right Orcas quality of life and help them to thrive and increase their numbers.
"Since being listed as endangered in 2005, this orca population has continued to decline and could go extinct soon unless the National Marine Fisheries Service quickly takes big, courageous actions."
Tell the National Marine Fisheries Service to expand protections for the critical habitat that Southern Resident orcas call home -
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