By listening to the hydrophones, researchers hope to learn:

  • Which orcas are moving through the Salish Sea?
  • Where are orcas headed at different times of the year?
  • What other underwater noises do we commonly hear?
Why Study Orcas and Sound?

Resident killer whales use sound in many different ways. Scientists want to know more about how they make and use sounds and how other sounds in the marine environment affect orcas. They ask questions like: How are calls used when orcas are hunting? How do calls change between different pods and over time? How loud is an echolocation click? As we learn more about the answers to these questions, resource managers are better able to understand how orcas use sound and how quiet humans should be when they are near orcas.

Southern Resident Killer Whales

The group of orcas known as the Southern Resident Killer Whales was listed as an Endangered Species by Canada in 2001 and the United States in 2005, as a result of a sharp drop in their population. In 1996, there were 97 whales in this group; in 2001 there were only 78. Researchers were extremely worried that this small number of whales might not be able to reproduce quickly enough to maintain their population. As of December 2010, the Southern Resident population has increased to 86 individuals, but this is still not considered a stable population.

There are three main threats to this endangered population of killer whales:

  • Decreasing availability of their prey, mainly salmon
  • Increasing toxic pollutants in the marine environment
  • Effects from vessels and underwater sound

Many studies and conservation efforts are currently underway to save these endangered whales.

J1 Tanker with Orca
L Pod
L Pod
Identifying Whales

Using this site, you will learn how to use signature calls to identify sounds from J, K, and L pods, the three groups which make up the Southern Resident Killer Whale community. Researchers can also identify individual whales by the unique pattern on the saddle patch behind the dorsal fin on their back. Using this system of photo identification, researchers are able to learn how many whales there are in the Southern Resident Killer Whale community and how they are related to each other. Visit the Center for Whale Research website to learn more about photo identification.

Click the image to the left to see a chart that will help you identify some orcas from L Pod by their saddle patches.