See up to 5 Types of Whales from 3 Departure Locations!

Southern Resident Killer Whales: J, K, and L Pods

Who Are the Southern Resident Killer Whales?

In recent years, the story of the Southern Residents has come to the forefront, making both national and international headlines.  Their preferred prey, chinook salmon, are currently endangered in our local waters.  As a result, this specific population of orcas is also currently listed as endangered.  This shortage of food has led to a decline of the salmon-eating J, K, and L pods over recent decades while their mammal-eating counterparts in the region are thriving.  In fact, while just 73 individuals remain in all of the Southern Resident population, the number of mammal-eating orcas in the Salish Sea numbers approximately 400 animals, with nearly 90 calves being born since 2012 thanks to an abundance of seals, sea lions, and porpoises in the area for them to feed on.  In addition to declining in population, J, K, and L pod whales are now spending most of their time foraging in the open ocean instead of local inland waters, a dramatic shift from decades past and a reflection of Washington and Canada's decreasing salmon numbers.  

Governor's Orca Recovery Task Force

On March 14, 2018, Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee assembled a task force to look into solutions that might benefit the Southern Residents and increase the salmon population.  After several meetings throughout the state, final recommendations were presented to the Governor in November 2018 and include a wide variety of options.  Some examples of suggestions include restoring salmon habitat, reducing pollution through stormwater runoff, and encouraging safe boating practices for all vessels around the whales.

You can read the full list of recommendations here. 

What Happens Next?

Based on recommendations that emerged through the Governor's orca task force, the 2019 legislative session passed several laws regarding Southern Resident killer whale recovery.  One of these laws pertains to vessel operations around Southern Residents.  As of the summer of 2019, vessels will be required to slow down to a speed of 7 knots or less in the presence of orcas.  The Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) will continue to voluntarily slow around all species of whale.

Additionally, the approach distance for Southern Resident orcas when encountered in Washington waters was increased to 300 yards and was created out of an abundance of caution.  This additional viewing buffer applies only to members of J, K, and L pod.  The viewing distance for other types of orcas remains at 200 yards, and the viewing distance for other types of whales remains at 100 yards.  

Island Adventures, along with all members of the PWWA, remain dedicated to educating and inspiring the public through responsible tourism.  We continue to work closely with researchers and law enforcement to develop sustainable whale watching guidelines not just for Southern Residents, but for all whales in the Salish Sea. Scientists and enforcement agencies agree that the PWWA's professional whale watching vessels serve as stewards on the water and are an important part of this population's recovery.  

What You Can Do to Help

Helping Southern Residents can seem like a daunting task, but there are many things that you can do to benefit the whales of J, K, and L pods.

  • Reduce - Look for items with less packaging to minimize waste and buy local products that aren't shipped long distances.
  • Reuse - Use items that can be used multiple times, like reusable totes instead of plastic bags.
  • Recycle - If an item can't be reused, be sure to separate things like glass, plastic, and cardboard from your trash for recycling.
  • Skip Hazardous Chemicals - Pledge to limit the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and other dangerous chemicals that are washed into local waterways.
  • Go Whale Watching with Island Adventures - Island Adventures is proud to make donations each year to a variety of salmon restoration programs and research organizations. If you participate in our "round-up" program when purchasing your tickets or buy a wildlife viewing guide during your tour, you'll be contributing even more toward these whale-friendly charities!

Learn more about the area’s wildlife and scenery.

The waters surrounding our three departure locations offer some of the most diverse whale and wildlife viewing on the west coast. Onboard each of our tours, an experienced naturalist helps identify all of the whales, wildlife, and rich history that this area holds.

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