September 5, 2019

The southern resident orca population is in crisis. By now you’ve probably heard the devastating news that three orcas were declared missing at the beginning of August and are presumed dead. 

Princess Angeline (J17) was 42, had successfully raised four calves and was a grandmother of the J-pod, an important position in a species that is matriarchal. K25 (Scoter), a young male, had been deteriorating ever since he lost his mother in 2017, and L84 (Nyssa) was the last of a matriline of 11 whales, 10 of whom, including his mom, have died.

southern resident orca

Now there are just 73 individuals. Despite two calves born this year, this is the lowest the population has been in more than 30 years. Calf mortality is 50% in the first year, so it’s possible that this population could drop even further. 

An adult orca needs almost 400 pounds of unpolluted salmon, ideally Chinook salmon, every single day to stay healthy and the southern resident orcas have struggled to overcome the challenges created by increased development on land and in the ocean. Drastically declining salmon availability due to dams and pollution, increasing impacts from toxic contamination and increasing noise pollution from vessel traffic are battering these orcas from all sides. They are not winning the fight for survival.

Juvenile chinook salmon
Roger Tabor/USFWS
Juvenile chinook salmon.

These whales are going extinct before our eyes, but Defenders of Wildlife is working to be the hope that these majestic creatures so desperately need. 

In response to the current fragile status of the southern resident orcas, Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee initiated a task force to develop targeted actions for southern resident orca recovery. Robb Krehbiel, our northwest representative, sits on working groups in the task force to speak up for orcas. 

In 2017, we launched Orcas Love Raingardens, a program that connects communities in the Pacific Northwest with the Salish Sea and the orcas. Students, teachers, parents, organizations and volunteers are on board. We are cleaning up the environment, stopping the flow of pollution and creating a healthier place for orcas. 

Salmon smolts entering the Columbia River
Salmon smolts entering the Columbia River.

But dams on the lower Columbia and Lower Snake rivers make it difficult – if not impossible – for juvenile salmon to make their way to the ocean, and for adults to return home to spawn. We’ve already been successful in getting Washington and Oregon to spill more water over the dams, increasing the number of salmon that make it to the sea. The next step is to remove four of these dams on the lower Snake River. These four outdated dams have the biggest impact on salmon, and we will need you to call on your members of Congress to support their removal in the near future. Since they don’t have voices themselves, we need to continue to push for bold action to save them from extinction.

Katie Jones

These orcas need hope. Their survival depends on their ability to find food and reproduce. We must breach the dams, work in our communities and cities to control and limit urban growth and retrofit cities to better capture and treat stormwater runoff, protect and restore estuaries and riparian Chinook salmon habitat, and restrict noise interference. The window of opportunity for stopping the extinction of these orcas is closing, but we can save them with your help. 


Follow Defenders of Wildlife