SAVING THE Southern Resident orca

The charismatic killer whale, or orca, is the totem species of northwest Washington and coastal British Columbia. This intelligent, social predator is known to form lasting social bonds — living in highly organized pods where everyone cares for the young, sick or injured. But like all endangered species, these groups must learn how to navigate the complicated, dangerous terrain of the 21st century.

The Center uses science and law to defend a critically endangered population on the West Coast known as the Southern Resident orcas (also called Puget Sound orcas or, when part of a more general group, West Coast orcas). These whales are distinct from all others — genetically unique, with a unique dialect and one of the only orca populations to feed extensively on salmon.

Now there are as few as 75 of them left on Earth.



When the Center first began working for these whales, we united a population ecologist, a toxicologist and an endangered species activist to study their life history, habitat needs, threats and population trends. We also enlisted a lawyer to review legal mandates for protecting imperiled species. This team produced a key analysis revealing that if the trends of the time were to continue, the population would go extinct within 100 years.

Our science and legal team immediately set to work developing a citizen petition to list Southern Resident orcas under the Endangered Species Act. After the G.W. Bush administration determined that the whale population was in danger of extinction but that this was “not significant," the Center filed a lawsuit resulting in federal protection. Some critical habitat was set aside and we began developing a recovery plan to ensure the whales' survival. After years of more Center work, including a petition and lawsuit, the National Marine Fisheries Serives expanded their critical habitat to cover important foraging areas, river mouths and migratory pathways along the Pacific Coast from the Canadian border to Big Sur, California.