September 1, 2021

Critically Endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale, J Pod, Return!

Southern Resident Killer Whale, Wave Walker

Haleigh | M/V Kestrel | September 1, 2021 | 2:00 pm


With the summer ending, each of us are reflecting on the wildlife experiences for the summer. Historically, we would have expected Southern Resident Killer Whales feeding and socializing along the west side of San Juan Island. SRKWs are now critically endangered due to the lack of salmon, specifically chinook salmon, in the Salish Sea. Typically our SRKWs would be around 70/80 days. Up until today, we had seen them 3 times… making today an incredibly special wildlife day. 


At 3:30am on September 1st, SRKW calls came through on the Lime Kiln hydrophone! These whales continued north where they were found by the Fraser River. The Fraser River is one of the largest Chinook Salmon runs and is a main food source for these SRKWs. After spending the morning checking out the salmon bounty near Vancouver, BC, they started their movement south. Our afternoon Kestrel trip began Northbound where we found a lunging Minke Whales nearby Waldron island. We continued North where we eventually saw the 6-foot dorsal fin of one of our SRKWs!


We slowly entered the scene, assessing the number of whales around us and trying to figure out what direction they were headed. We finally were able to position ourselves alongside these whales to find out these were members of J pod and even one member of L pod, L88 (Wave Walker). They were extremely surface active, slapping their tails and pectoral fins on the surface of the water. Despite being critically endangered, these whales showed off their lively, charismatic personalities that made them so beloved in the 1960’s. It was a humbling experience to view them and think about how much they have overcome. Being hunted and captured throughout the 1900’s, and then having their salmon source depleted by overfishing and dams, these whales have endured countless life-threatening hurdles. Now with a dire lack of salmon, SRKWs are breaking down their blubber for energy and for the first time processing the toxins stored there, like PCBs and DDT. Every effort to restore their food source and mitigate the toxic runoff into their home is needed to save these animals! It’s a treat for these whales to pop up and we hope they will stick around. Their presence is a reminder that the actions of humans impact every living organism in this ecosystem and around our planet. It’s important to take experiences like today, seeing a critically endangered group of sentient, lovable marine mammals, and alter our actions to have the least impact possible!


Picture Credits: Ezra Garfield