Orcinus orca pop. 5
Killer Whale - Northeast Pacific Southern Resident Population
Other English Common Names: Killer Whale - Southern Resident Population
Taxonomic Status: Provisionally accepted
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.79.732807
Element Code: AMAGE07018
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Mammals - Whales and Dolphins
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Mammalia Cetacea Delphinidae Orcinus
Genus Size: A - Monotypic genus
Check this box to expand all report sections:
Concept Reference
Help
Concept Reference: COSEWIC. 2002. Canadian Species at Risk, May 2002. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. 34 pp. Available online: http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/
Concept Reference Code: N02COS01EHUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Orcinus orca pop. 5
Taxonomic Comments: NMFS (2005) concurred with a Biological Review Team (BRT) conclusion that killer whales in the Puget Sound area (Southern Resident population) likely belong to an unnamed subspecies of resident killer whales in the North Pacific. This subspecies includes populations known as Southern Resident and Northern Resident, as well as the resident killer whales of southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound, Kodiak Island, the Bering Sea and Russia. It does not include transient or offshore killer whales. The BRT concluded that the Southern Resident population is discrete and significant with respect to the North Pacific resident taxon and therefore should be considered a Distinct Population Segment (DPS) under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Conservation Status
Help

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G4G5T1
Global Status Last Reviewed: 06Dec2005
Global Status Last Changed: 06Dec2005
Rounded Global Status: T1 - Critically Imperiled
Reasons: Small range centered in the Puget Sound region; total population size is less than 100; threatened by ongoing human impacts that may affect survival and reproduction; vulnerable to a catastrophic event such as an oil spill.
Nation: United States
National Status: N1 (08Feb2008)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N1 (01Jan2012)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Washington (S1)
Canada British Columbia (S1)

Other Statuses

U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): LE: Listed endangered (18Nov2005)
Comments on USESA: NMFS (Federal Register, 5 August 2013) found delisting this DPS is not warranted.

In a 90-day petitin finding to include the Orcinus orca known as Lolita in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of the Southern Resident killer whales, NMFS (2013) found that the petitioned action may be warranted. They are conducting a status review of Southern Resident killer whales and will examine the application of the DPS policy and the listing with respect to Lolita.

Lolita is a female killer whale, captured from the Southern Resident population in 1970, who resides at the Miami Seaquarium in Miami, Florida. The Southern Resident killer whale Distinct Population Segment (DPS) was listed as endangered under the ESA in 2005.

Canadian Species at Risk Act (SARA) Schedule 1/Annexe 1 Status: E (05Jun2003)
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC): Endangered (28Nov2008)
Comments on COSEWIC: Reason for designation: The population is small and declining, and the decline is expected to continue. Southern residents are limited by the availability of their principal prey, Chinook Salmon. There are forecasts of continued low abundance of Chinook Salmon. Southern residents are also threatened by increasing physical and acoustical disturbance, oil spills and contaminants.

Status history: The "North Pacific resident populations" were given a single designation of Threatened in April 1999. Split into three populations in November 2001. The Southern Resident population was designated Endangered in November 2001. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2008.

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: The range during spring, summer, and fall includes the inland waterways of Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Southern Georgia Strait (NMFS 2005). Sometimes whales of this DPS have occurred in the coastal waters off Oregon, Washington, Vancouver Island, and more recently off the coast of central California in the south and off the Queen Charlotte Islands to the north (NMFS 2005). Little is known about winter movements and range.

Number of Occurrences: 1 - 5
Number of Occurrences Comments: The Southern Resident killer whale assemblage includes three pods (J pod, K pod, and L pod) and is considered a stock under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It can be regarded as comprising a single occurrence.

Population Size: 1 - 250 individuals
Population Size Comments: The population peaked at 97 animals in the 1990s and then declined to 79 in 2001; it currently stands at 89 whales (NMFS 2005).

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: None to very few (0-3)

Overall Threat Impact: Medium
Overall Threat Impact Comments: The following information was excerpted from NMFS (2005), which see for further information and literature citations.

Several factors have modified the habitat, including contaminants, vessel traffic, and changes in prey availability. Salmon populations have declined due to degradation of aquatic ecosystems resulting from modern land use changes (e.g., agriculture, hydropower, urban development), harvest, and hatchery practices. Reductions in prey availability may force the whales to spend more time foraging and could lead to reduced reproductive rates and higher mortality. Despite the enactment of modern pollution controls in recent decades, studies have documented high levels of PCBs and DDTs in Southern Resident killer whales. These and other chemical compounds have the ability to induce immune suppression, reproductive impairment, and other physiological effects, as observed in studies on other marine mammals. In addition, high levels of contaminants such as PBDEs (flame retardants) that may have similar negative effects have been found in killer whales and have an expanding presence in the environment. Commercial shipping, whale watching, ferry operations, and recreational boating traffic have expanded in recent decades and are likely to increase in the future. Several studies have linked vessels with short-term behavioral changes in Northern and Southern Resident killer whales. Potential impacts from vessels and sound are poorly understood and may affect foraging efficiency, communication, and/or energy expenditure through physical presence or increased underwater sound levels or both. Collisions with vessels are also a potential source of injury.

The capture of killer whales for public display during the 1970s likely depressed their population size and altered the population characteristics sufficiently to severely affect their reproduction and persistence. However, there have not been any removals for public display since the 1970s. Under existing prohibitions on take under the MMPA, commercial and recreational whale watching must be conducted without causing harassment of the whales. While NMFS, commercial whale watch operators, and nongovernmental organizations have developed guidelines to educate boaters on how to avoid harassment, there are still concerns regarding compliance with the guidelines and potential violations of the MMPA, increased numbers of vessels engaged in whale watching, and cumulative effects on the whales.

While disease has not been implicated in the recent decline of Southern Resident killer whales, high contaminant levels may be affecting immune function in the whales, increasing their susceptibility to disease. All current members of the Southern Resident killer whale DPS that have been tested have high levels of toxins in their tissues, and these levels are not likely to significantly decrease over
their life spans. The cohesive social structure and presence of all whales in a localized area at one time also has implications should a disease outbreak occur.

Current levels of contaminants in the environment indicate that previous regulatory mechanisms were not sufficient to protect killer whales. While the use of PCBs and DDT is prohibited under existing regulations, they persist in the environment, possibly for decades, and are also transported via oceans and the atmosphere from areas where their use has not been banned. In addition, there are new emerging contaminants that may have similar negative effects that are not currently regulated.

Due to its proximity to Alaska's crude oil supply, Puget Sound is one of the leading petroleum refining centers in the United States, with about 15 billion gallons of crude oil and refined petroleum products annually transported through it. In marine mammals, acute exposure to petroleum products can cause changes in behavior and reduced activity, inflammation of mucous membranes, lung congestion, pneumonia, liver disorders and neurological damage. The Exxon Valdez oil spill was identified as a potential source of mortality for resident and transient killer whales in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and has raised concerns about potential implications for Southern Residents, particularly if the entire population is together in the vicinity of a spill. In addition, there may be additional anthropogenic factors that have not yet been identified as threats for Southern Resident killer whales, particularly in their winter range which is not well known.

The Southern Resident appears to be at risk of extinction because of either small-scale impacts over time (e.g., reduced fecundity or subadult survivorship) or a major catastrophe (e.g., disease outbreak or oil spill). Additionally, the small population size DPS makes it potentially vulnerable to Allee effects (e.g., inbreeding depression) that could cause a further decline. The small number of breeding males, as well as possible reduced fecundity and subadult survivorship in the L-pod, may limit the population's potential for rapid growth in the near future. Although the Southern Resident DPS has demonstrated the ability to recover from lower levels in the past and has shown an increasing trend over the last several years, the factors responsible for the decline are unclear. These factors may still exist and may continue to persist, and they could potentially preclude a substantial population increase.

Short-term Trend: Relatively Stable (<=10% change)
Short-term Trend Comments: Population size has exhibited an increasing trend over the past several years (NMFS 2005).

Long-term Trend:  
Long-term Trend Comments: The population experienced a 20 percent decline in the 1990s (NMFS 2005).

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Highly vulnerable

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Distribution
Help
Global Range: The range during spring, summer, and fall includes the inland waterways of Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Southern Georgia Strait (NMFS 2005). Sometimes whales of this DPS have occurred in the coastal waters off Oregon, Washington, Vancouver Island, and more recently off the coast of central California in the south and off the Queen Charlotte Islands to the north (NMFS 2005). Little is known about winter movements and range.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States WA
Canada BC

Range Map
No map available.

Ecology & Life History
Help
Habitat Type: Marine
Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Help
Management Summary
Help
Stewardship Overview: A conservation plan is available (NMFS 2005).
Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
Help
Population/Occurrence Viability
Help
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
Help
Authors/Contributors
Help
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 07Feb2011
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
Help
  • Ayres, K.L., R.K. Booth, J.A. Hempelmann, K.L. Koski, C.K. Emmons, R.W. Baird, K. Balcomb-Bartok, M.B. Hanson, M.J. Ford and S.K. Wasser. 2012. Distinguishing the impacts of inadequate prey and vessel traffic on an Endangered killer whale (Orcinus orca) population. PLoS One 7:e36842.

  • B.C. Ministry of Environment. Recovery Planning in BC. B.C. Minist. Environ. Victoria, BC.

  • COSEWIC. 2002. Canadian Species at Risk, May 2002. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. 34 pp. Available online: http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/

  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2011c. Recovery Strategy for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series, Fisheries & Oceans Canada, Ottawa, ix + 80 pp.

  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2018h. Recovery Strategy for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series, Fisheries & Oceans Canada, Ottawa, x + 84 pp.

  • Folkens, P. 1984. The whale watcher's handbook. Doubleday Co., Inc., Garden City, NY 208 pp.

  • Ford, M.J., M.B. Hanson, J.A. Hempelmann, K.L. Ayres, C.K. Emmons, G.S. Schorr, R.W. Baird, K.C. Balcomb, S.K. Wasser, K.M. Parsons and K. Balcomb-Bartok. 2011. Inferred paternity and male reproductive success in a killer whale (Orcinus orca) population. Journal of Heredity doi:10.1093/jhered/esr067

  • National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). 2005b. Proposed conservation plan for southern resident killer whales (Orcinus orca). National Marine Fisheries Service, Northwest Region, Seattle, Washington. 183 pp.

  • National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). 2005c. Endangered status for southern resident killer whales. 18 November 2005. Federal Register 70(222):69903-69912.

  • National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). 2016a. U.S. Pacific Marine Mammal Stock Assessments, 2015. NOAA-TM-NMFS-SWFSC-532. 426pp.

  • National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). 2016b. Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) 5-Year Review: Summary and Evaluation West Coast Region Seattle, WA December 2016. 72 pp.

  • National Marine Fisheries Service. 2014b. U.S. Pacific Marine Mammal Stock Assessments, 2013. NOAA-TM-NMFS-SWFSC-532. 400pp.

  • Parks Canada Agency. 2017f. Multi-species Action Plan for Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada - Species at Risk Act Action Plan Series. Parks Canada Agency, Ottawa. v + 29 pp.

  • Trites, A.W., and L.G. Barett-Lennard. 2001. COSEWIC Status Report Addendum on Killer Whales (Orcinus orca). Marine Mammal Research Unit, Fisheries Centre, UBC, Vancouver, BC.

  • Wiles, G. J. 2004. Washington State status report for the killer whale. Washington Department Fish and Wildlife, Olympia. 106 pp.

  • Wiles, G. J. 2016. Periodic status review for the killer whale in Washington. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington. 26+iii pp.

Use Guidelines & Citation

Use Guidelines and Citation

The Small Print: Trademark, Copyright, Citation Guidelines, Restrictions on Use, and Information Disclaimer.

Note: All species and ecological community data presented in NatureServe Explorer at http://explorer.natureserve.org were updated to be current with NatureServe's central databases as of March 2019.
Note: This report was printed on

Trademark Notice: "NatureServe", NatureServe Explorer, The NatureServe logo, and all other names of NatureServe programs referenced herein are trademarks of NatureServe. Any other product or company names mentioned herein are the trademarks of their respective owners.

Copyright Notice: Copyright © 2019 NatureServe, 2511 Richmond (Jefferson Davis) Highway, Suite 930, Arlington, VA 22202, U.S.A. All Rights Reserved. Each document delivered from this server or web site may contain other proprietary notices and copyright information relating to that document. The following citation should be used in any published materials which reference the web site.

Citation for data on website including State Distribution, Watershed, and Reptile Range maps:
NatureServe. 2019. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available http://explorer.natureserve.org. (Accessed:

Citation for Bird Range Maps of North America:
Ridgely, R.S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Bird Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy - Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International - CABS, World Wildlife Fund - US, and Environment Canada - WILDSPACE."

Citation for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
Patterson, B.D., G. Ceballos, W. Sechrest, M.F. Tognelli, T. Brooks, L. Luna, P. Ortega, I. Salazar, and B.E. Young. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Mammals of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Bruce Patterson, Wes Sechrest, Marcelo Tognelli, Gerardo Ceballos, The Nature Conservancy-Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International-CABS, World Wildlife Fund-US, and Environment Canada-WILDSPACE."

Citation for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe. 2004. Global Amphibian Assessment. IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe, Washington, DC and Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
"Data developed as part of the Global Amphibian Assessment and provided by IUCN-World Conservation Union, Conservation International and NatureServe."

NOTE: Full metadata for the Bird Range Maps of North America is available at:
http://www.natureserve.org/library/birdDistributionmapsmetadatav1.pdf.

Full metadata for the Mammal Range Maps of North America is available at:
http://www.natureserve.org/library/mammalsDistributionmetadatav1.pdf.

Restrictions on Use: Permission to use, copy and distribute documents delivered from this server is hereby granted under the following conditions:
  1. The above copyright notice must appear in all copies;
  2. Any use of the documents available from this server must be for informational purposes only and in no instance for commercial purposes;
  3. Some data may be downloaded to files and altered in format for analytical purposes, however the data should still be referenced using the citation above;
  4. No graphics available from this server can be used, copied or distributed separate from the accompanying text. Any rights not expressly granted herein are reserved by NatureServe. Nothing contained herein shall be construed as conferring by implication, estoppel, or otherwise any license or right under any trademark of NatureServe. No trademark owned by NatureServe may be used in advertising or promotion pertaining to the distribution of documents delivered from this server without specific advance permission from NatureServe. Except as expressly provided above, nothing contained herein shall be construed as conferring any license or right under any NatureServe copyright.
Information Warranty Disclaimer: All documents and related graphics provided by this server and any other documents which are referenced by or linked to this server are provided "as is" without warranty as to the currentness, completeness, or accuracy of any specific data. NatureServe hereby disclaims all warranties and conditions with regard to any documents provided by this server or any other documents which are referenced by or linked to this server, including but not limited to all implied warranties and conditions of merchantibility, fitness for a particular purpose, and non-infringement. NatureServe makes no representations about the suitability of the information delivered from this server or any other documents that are referenced to or linked to this server. In no event shall NatureServe be liable for any special, indirect, incidental, consequential damages, or for damages of any kind arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information contained in any documents provided by this server or in any other documents which are referenced by or linked to this server, under any theory of liability used. NatureServe may update or make changes to the documents provided by this server at any time without notice; however, NatureServe makes no commitment to update the information contained herein. Since the data in the central databases are continually being updated, it is advisable to refresh data retrieved at least once a year after its receipt. The data provided is for planning, assessment, and informational purposes. Site specific projects or activities should be reviewed for potential environmental impacts with appropriate regulatory agencies. If ground-disturbing activities are proposed on a site, the appropriate state natural heritage program(s) or conservation data center can be contacted for a site-specific review of the project area (see Visit Local Programs).

Feedback Request: NatureServe encourages users to let us know of any errors or significant omissions that you find in the data through (see Contact Us). Your comments will be very valuable in improving the overall quality of our databases for the benefit of all users.