There are pregnant orca moms in all three of the endangered southern resident pods—J, K and L!
These orcas are at their lowest population in over three decades. New calves would be incredibly special in their own rights, but also essential to reverse the downward population trend.
Dr. Holly Fearnbach of the nonprofit SR3 and Dr. John Durban of Southall Environmental Associates discovered these pregnancies this summer. They use aerial images to study individual orcas’ body conditions over time.
Pregnancies are very good news, and we are celebrating. We’re also crossing our fingers because the risks are very high. Over the past decade, the majority of orca pregnancies haven’t resulted in successful births, for reasons including insufficient food (Chinook salmon) and toxic pollution. (Take a look at these infographics to learn why Chinook are the orcas’ key food source, why Chinook salmon are scarce and why pollution is a big problem.)
But we’re not just crossing our fingers. We’re also taking action: speaking out for added protections to give these orca moms the best possible chance at birthing and raising healthy young.
What can you do?
The orcas travel throughout the Salish Sea looking for food. They are often seen in central and south Puget Sound, especially in the fall and winter (check out this infographic about sightings in the Salish Sea). That’s right in our backyard—and the backyard of anyone in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and a lot of other communities. Curious boaters often get too close, which can directly harm the orcas.
If you go out on a boat, or have friends who have boats, there is something you can do right now to help: take a pledge to give the southern resident orcas, particularly the pregnant orca mothers and their families, even more space on the water, and encourage your friends to do the same with the boater pledge, individual pledge or both.
At a minimum, small vessels—from sailboats, motorboats and whale-watching boats to kayaks, paddleboards and jet-skis—are required by Washington state law to slow to 7 knots when within half a mile of the orcas, and to stay at least 300 yards away on the sides and 400 yards in front and behind. Check out the Be Whale Wise guidelines for more details. (Kayakers should also move in close to shore and raft up, ideally in kelp beds, until the orcas have passed by, if orcas are approaching within 300 yards of shore.)
But those legally mandated distances should be taken as absolute minimums. The science shows that boats can impact the orcas from farther away, even with no engine running. We encourage all boaters to allow even more space to quiet the waters, avoid disturbing the orcas’ foraging behaviors, and give the pregnant orca moms the best possible chance to have healthy calves. Join us in taking the pledge!
Together with NRDC, Washington Environmental Council, The Whale Trail, Friends of the San Juans, and many other NGO partners, we’re also asking commercial whale-watching companies to take a similar pledge to steer clear of the critically endangered orcas and focus tours on the other amazing populations of killer whales and wildlife. We’ll share the names of participating companies with you—so if you’re interested in taking a tour, you can choose one of the most responsible companies, taking the lead on southern resident orca recovery.
We also encourage everyone to spend time viewing other animals that are not at such high and imminent risk, from harbor seals to humpback whales. Check out sites along the Whale Trail for shore-based viewing of all kinds of marine mammals, including orcas. Or come visit us at the Seattle Aquarium—we are a stop on the Whale Trail, and we have animals of all kinds ready to meet you!