September 30, 2021

Surprise Visit from Critically Endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales

J Pod Southern Resident Killer Whales

Haleigh | M/V Sea Lion | September 30, 2021 | 12:00 pm


Throughout this summer, we have only encountered the critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales a handful of times. It is growing more rare to see these struggling animals due to the lack of prey for them in the Salish Sea. Chinook Salmon is their #1 food source and has been heavily overfished and further declined due to habitat loss of freshwater rivers. Because they no longer have a stable food source of Chinook Salmon in the Salish sea, they are traveling elsewhere in search of food. However, through the summer they’ve made their way back on multiple occasions and on this day we spent some time with members of J Pod.


We were lucky enough to view these whales from ½ nautical mile distance, as we encountered them during their protected foraging hours. Even from this distance, each guest could hear the immensely powerful blows that came with each surfacing. Understanding the plight of these animals made the experience what it was. We were watching a struggling population who, despite it all, amazed us with tail slaps, pectoral slaps, and a few breaches! The large 6-foot dorsal fin of J26, Mike, elicited “oohs” and “ahhs” from the guests on our boat, while others watched his mom, J16 Slick, surface about 50 yards away.


The Southern Resident Killer Whales have 73 members left. Their population has been declining at a rate of 3% per year and shows no signs of growing unless something can be done about their prey source. Restoring habitat for salmon, removing dams, supporting the genetic diversity that wild salmon provide, and choosing to source our salmon sustainably are all ways in which we can help these Southern Resident Killer Whales and in turn improve the health of riparian, forest, and urban ecosystems!


PC: Ezra Garfield