Orcas in Puget Sound

Our local orcas need your help

Majestic orcas are the marine wildlife icons of the Pacific Northwest. They need clean water and plenty of salmon to thrive. The Seattle Aquarium and our partners are working to help protect these amazing creatures. Read on to find out how you can help, and come visit us at the Puget Sound Orcas: Family Activity Center at the Seattle Aquarium to learn more.

Also known as killer whales, orcas are playful, intelligent and social animals. They make unique calls to communicate with each other and use echolocation to find food.

The orcas that are seen in our local waters are part of the Southern Resident Community, composed of J, K and L pods. The most recent count finds 78 orcas in the Southern Resident Community. The Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island conducts annual surveys of the orca population; visit their website at whaleresearch.com for the most up-to-date information.

Fun Facts

Fun fact: Did you know the Southern Resident orcas have their own trading cards? Pick some up at the Puget Sound Orcas: Family Activity Center or purchase a complete set at the gift shop during your next visit to the Aquarium. Each card features a different member of the Southern Resident Community, along with cool information about our region's amazing orcas. Orcas live in family groups called pods that travel and hunt together. Pods are matrilineal, which means they are led by their oldest females. Because calves never leave their mothers, up to five generations of orcas have been documented living together. Orcas can live into their 90s.


Fun fact:

Granny, also known as J2, is the matriarch of J pod. Thought to be the oldest member of the Southern Resident population, her estimated birth year is 1911.


Southern Resident orcas feed mainly on Chinook salmon and use sound to
find fish, while transient killer whales have developed quiet hunting techniques to successfully catch their marine mammal prey.

In 2005, our local orcas were placed on the endangered species list. This small population is at risk likely due to lack of prey, pollution and disturbances from
marine vessels.

Can you hear us now?

Try our listening station in the Family Activity Center. Underwater microphones, called hydrophones, have been stationed around the Puget Sound and on the outer coast of Washington state – they are constantly monitoring the underwater soundscape. These listening stations make up the Salish Sea Hydrophone Network.

Fun fact: You can listen for orcas in and near the Puget Sound from the comfort of your own home! Visit orcasound.net to plug into the Salish Sea Hydrophone Network.

Fun fact: Southern Resident orca pods have distinctive calls that can be identified by human listeners. When their calls are picked up by hydrophones in the Salish Sea hydrophone network, orca researchers can usually identify which pods were present – even if it was at night and nobody saw them.

Help restore the clean and abundant marine environment that orcas need to survive and thrive! Learn more and get involved!

1. Conserve water. Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth, take shorter showers, skip watering your lawn. More water in our rivers means more water for salmon – and more food for orcas! 2. Conserve electricity. Use less electricity so the dams use less water. More water for salmon means more salmon for orcas.

3. Put waste in its place. Properly dispose of litter, garbage and pet waste – and check your car engine to prevent oil leaks – so these materials don’t end up in Puget Sound.

4. Choose non-toxic, environmentally friendly household and yard products. Even far from the water, nearly everything that goes down your drain or washes into storm drains and creeks, eventually ends up in the sea.

5. Use less gas. Carpool, use mass transit, ride your bike or walk to help create a cleaner environment for our orcas.

6. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Saving resources makes for a better environment for our orcas – and ourselves.

7. Make informed decisions about the seafood you eat. Choose sustainably caught and harvested seafood. See our website for guidance.

8. Follow whale-watching guidelines. Be Whale Wise: if you’re going whale watching, do so from a safe distance; or even better, from the shore.

9. Increase your knowledge and support the many groups that are working to save the orcas – and salmon too. For links and more information, see below.

10. Share what you know with family and friends! Together, we can all make a difference and help save the orcas.

The Seattle Aquarium
seattleaquarium.org - Visit us on the waterfront to explore the Puget Sound Orcas: Family Activity Center.

NOAA Fisheries
nwr.noaa.gov - Read the Southern Resident killer whale and salmon recovery plans.
• Report harassment or sightings of injured/stranded marine mammals by calling the NOAA Fisheries hotline at (800) 853-1964.

Be Whale Wise
bewhalewise.org - Learn how to watch whales safely and responsibly.

Center for Whale Research
whaleresearch.com - 35 years of killer whale population research and great orca photos.

The Whale Trail
thewhaletrail.org - Find out where you can view whales from shore. The Seattle Aquarium is one of the first sites along The Whale Trail, established to inspire appreciation and stewardship of whales.

Killer Whale Tales
killerwhaletales.org - Environmental science through storytelling; inspiring kids to make a difference for orcas.

The Whale Museum
whalemuseum.org - Visit the museum in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, or on the web, and adopt a Southern Resident orca!

Orca Network
orcanetwork.org - Find out where the whales are, all the latest news about orcas and their habitat, ways to get involved, and more.

American Cetacean Society, Puget Sound Chapter
acspugetsound.org - Local chapter of the oldest whale conservation organization, featuring a monthly speaker series in Seattle.

People for Puget Sound
pugetsound.org - Working for a clean and healthy Puget Sound, teeming with fish and wildlife.

Save Our Wild Salmon
wildsalmon.org - A coalition working to recover abundant, sustainable runs of wild salmon to the Northwest’s Columbia and Snake Rivers, once the largest salmon-producing river system on earth.

Salish Sea Hydrophone Network
orcasound.net - Listen in to a network of hydrophones stationed throughout the Salish Sea, habitat of the Southern Resident orca pods.

Beam Reach Marine Science and Sustainability School
beamreach.org - Study killer whales in the Pacific Northwest. Work alongside expert mentors while living sustainably on a sailboat.

Washington Toxics Coalition
watoxics.org - Protecting public health and the environment by eliminating toxic pollution.