(c) Fred Felleman / felleman@teleport.com
ORCA Natural History

Although found throughout the world, orcas in the US Pacific are three distinct types -- the offshore orcas (who eat marine mammals); the transient orcas (who stay closer inshore but who also primarily eat marine mammals); and the resident orcas (who primarily eat fish).

In the US Pacific northwest and southern coastal British Columbia ("BC"), Canada, there are the northern residents and the southern residents. These two genetically distinct populations are further subdivided into pods, which are family groups. The southern residents - J, K and L pods - are the focus of this campaign.

Male and female orcas spend their entire lives in their mother's pod. Male orcas can live into their 50's, and females well into their 80's.

In Washington and southwest Canadian waters, the orcas we most often see are the southern resident pods J, K and L. They sense their environment both by echolocation, which allows them to bounce soundwaves off of underwater objects in order to detect them, and by complex vocalizations between pod members. Each pod has its own identifiable dialect. Point your browser here to hear orca sounds!

Chinook salmon are a mainstay in the resident orca diet. Click here to learn more about chinook salmon.

Southern residents have lower population numbers than the northern residents, most likely because of greater threats from past live -captures, toxic poisoning and human disturbance. Click here to find out more about the Puget Sound marine environment.

Though both populations of whales were hunted as recently as the 1940's to 1960's, southern residents were the primary focus. The Center for Whale Research estimates that thirty-six orca whales were captured for marine theme parks. Survivors were sent to amusement parks such as Sea World and the Miami Seaquarium. All captives died well before their natural lifespan, except one. Lolita is the only living captive orca from the northwest. She languishes at Miami Seaquarium in the smallest performing orca pool in the US. Her rehabilitation and return to the southern resident population could greatly improve the health of her home pod.

Find out more about Lolita and what you can do to help, at the Orca Conservancy. For information about orca science go to the Center for Whale Research and the Orca Lab.

To contact advocacy groups working for orca protection go to the Orca Conservancy, the Puget Sound Chapter of the American Cetacean Society and the Whale Museum.

International Marine Mammal Project
300 Broadway, suite 28
San Francisco, CA 94133
415/788-3666 or fax 415/788-7324