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.

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 fewer than 80 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.

Southern resident orcas feed mainly on Chinook salmon and use sound to find fish, while transient orcas 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.

Related blog posts

Eba, a orca scat sniffing dog, standing on the edge of a boat traveling along a water way in the Puget Sound.

Stories from the Salish Sea: Eba + the Orcas

“You can’t make this story up…a pound dog that is out saving killer whales.”

Chris Morgan, wildlife ecologist, conservationist, filmmaker and host of the podcast THE WILD, takes us on a research vessel in the San Juan Islands to witness Eba, an orca-scat-sniffing dog. The scat tells the story of the challenges the orcas are facing—from toxicity and stress levels to reproductive health and more. Chris uncovers some brilliant work that has already been done to help orcas and what you can do to help.

Take action

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!

Conserve electricity. Use less electricity so the dams use less water. More water for salmon means more salmon for orcas.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

Learn More

Increase your knowledge and support the many groups that are working to save the orcas – and salmon too. 

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

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

Center for Whale Research
35 years of orca population research and great orca photos.

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

NOAA Fisheries
Read the southern resident orcas and salmon recovery plans. Report harassment or sightings of injured/stranded marine mammals by calling the NOAA Fisheries hotline at (800) 853-1964.

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

Listen in to a network of hydrophones stationed throughout the Salish Sea, habitat of the Southern Resident orca pods.

Orca Salmon Alliance
The Orca Salmon Alliance (OSA) works to highlight the connection between two iconic endangered species that need help: southern resident orcas and Chinook salmon.

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

Quiet Sound
A collaborative program to reduce noise impacts to southern resident orcas from large commercial vessels.

Save Our Wild Salmon
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.

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

Washington state orca recovery website
Track progress toward implementing the Governor’s Orca Task Force recommendations.

Whale Scout
Volunteer on a habitat restoration project to protect Pacific Northwest whales through land-based conservation experiences. 

The Whale Trail
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.