The Orcas of Puget Sound
Types of Whales
The Orcas of Puget Sound have been designated as a distinct Orca population, and listed under the Endangered Species Act since 2005.
They are likewise listed under similar endangered species legislation in Canada in 2001.
Currently a multi-governmental effort is working to restore their habitat and improve the odds that this population can survive for generations.
Orca (Orcinus orca) is the formal name for the mammal, however it is more commonly known as the killer whale. Less commonly known is the fact that they are actually the largest species in the dolphin family (Delphinidae).
Orcas are fairly common in the cold water regions of the world's oceans. In the northern Pacific Ocean, populations exist around coastal waters of both the Northeast Asian and Northwest American land masses.
Orca population research conducted over the past thirty years has focused on the groups that inhabit the waters around Alaska, south to the groups that inhabit the waters along the Pacific Northwest. The Southern Resident Orcas are the specific group in the Puget Sound that was listed.
NOAA describes the Southern Resident population as,
"Southern Resident killer whales are fish eating with a seasonal (summer) home range that includes Washington and southern British Columbia waters (Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the southern Strait of Georgia). Along the north Pacific coast, resident killer whales occur from Oregon and Washington to the Bering Sea. In the Pacific Northwest, the two closest resident killer whale communities (groups of pods that share a common home range), are the Southern Residents and the Northern Residents, which live in northern British Columbia and southeast Alaska."
Because the Southern Resident population shares an area of Canadian coastal waters, the number of state agencies dealing with their conservation expands. Washington State, British Columbia and both the Canadian and United States federal governments are working on a variety of issues that deal with improving the Puget Sound ecosystem, from water and air quality to natural resource conservation. The popularity of the whales for both recreational whale watching and scientific investigation means that there are also interest groups in the area that work on Orca protection issues.
Currently the United States government is in the process of finalizing which specific areas around the Puget Sound will be designated as critical habitat for the Orca.
Growing up to thirty feet in length the orcas (Orcinus orca), sometimes called killer whales, actually rank as the largest species in the dolphin family (Delphinidae)
Social mammals that live in pods, they collectively hunt for any readily available food in the world's oceans.
During the late 1990s a video tape of killer whales attacking a great white shark emerged. Granted, the great white shark was a juvenile, however, the moral of the story suggests that when killer whales are hungry, all of the ocean's fish and sharks are fair game.
NOAA researches discuss the varied diets of killer whales and suggest that like humans, they enjoy a diet of local seafood.
Eastern North Pacific and Pacific Northwest Orcas, including the Orcas of Puget Sound for example, have a diet that consists primarily of Chinook and chum salmon. Transient populations consume Dall's porpoises, Pacific white-sided dolphins, California and Steller sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters and baleen whales.
© 2013. Patricia A. Michaels