Creature Feature: Southern Resident Killer Whales!

Photo by Jason Shields

Photo by Jason Shields

Did you know that not all killer whales are the same? They might look similar, but some eat marine mammals, others eat sharks, and others eat salmon!

The salmon-eaters are called Southern Resident Killer Whales and only about 70 of them are left in the world! They could go extinct if we don’t help keep their waters clean and quiet.

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Southern Resident Killer Whales can hold their breath for more than 15 minutes at a time and they dive more than 800 feet deep! They are a special animal, especially here in the Salish Sea.

They love to eat Chinook salmon, which are endangered because of overfishing and habitat loss in the Salish Sea. “You have one endangered species that must feed on another endangered species to survive,” said SeaDoc Society Science Director Joe Gaydos. “That’s a big challenge!”

Underwater noise from boats makes it hard for them to talk. They rely on special calls to communicate with their pods and to hunt salmon.

“They navigate and find food with their ears,” said Gaydos. “But noise caused by boat traffic can make it very hard to do that.”

Photo by John Durban (NOAA Fisheries), Holly Fearnbach (SR3) and Lance Barrett-Lennard (Vancouver Aquarium),

Photo by John Durban (NOAA Fisheries), Holly Fearnbach (SR3) and Lance Barrett-Lennard (Vancouver Aquarium),

Toxins in the water make it easier for whales to get sick. Many manmade chemicals like PCBs and DDT (learn more here!) get stuck in the water for years. They harm many animals in the sea, from the bottom of the food chain all the way up to Southern Resident Killer Whales. The moms even pass those toxins on to their newborn babies.

Even though scientists are working hard to save Southern Resident Killer Whales, more needs to be done! Every whale matters, and you can help by telling your friends and family about these amazing animals.