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The Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW), or Orcas, are actually a large extended family, or clan, comprised of three pods: J, K, and L pods.
Within each pod, families form into sub-pods centered around older females, usually grandmothers or great-grandmothers. Both male and female offspring remain in close association with their mothers for life.
Each Southern Resident pod uses a characteristic dialect of calls (sounds) to communicate. Certain calls are common between all three pods. The calls used by the Southern Resident community are unlike the calls used by any other community of killer whales. These calls can travel 10 miles or more under water.
The Southern Resident Killer Whales are frequently seen, from spring through fall, in the protected inshore waters of the Salish Sea. The Salish Sea includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Strait of Georgia, and Puget Sound, and all their connecting channels and adjoining waters, and the waters around and between the San Juan Islands in Washington State and the Gulf Islands in British Columbia.
K14, K42 and K26 - Sept. 17, 2009
As of December 2013, the SRKW population totaled 80 individuals ( J Pod = 25, K Pod = 19, L Pod = 36). The size of all three Southern Resident pods was reduced in number from 1965-75 as a result of whale captures for marine park exhibition. At least 13 whales were killed during these captures, while 45 whales were delivered to marine parks around the world. Today, only Lolita (Tokitae) remains alive in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium. Annual SRKW population updates occur on July 1 and December 31 each year.
* The SRKW population totals cited in this website are for the general public and are provided as estimates. The number of whales in this population is constantly changing. Please contact the Center for Whale Research directly to receive the most current information, prior to any publication of this population estimate. The information on this page is updated on July 1 and December 31 each year. Any published or broadcast reference to this population estimate must include credit to the Center for Whale Research.
J Pod is the pod most likely to appear year-round in the waters of the San Juan Islands and Southern Gulf Islands, lower Puget Sound (near Seattle), and Georgia Strait. This 25-member pod tends to frequent the west side of San Juan Island in mid to late spring. The oldest member of J pod is J2 (Granny), estimated to be 103 years old. J pod's mature males are now J26, J27 and J34. J pod had one new calf in 2012, J49 (male), the first calf of J37.
With only 19 members, K Pod is the smallest of the three pods in the Southern Resident Killer Whale community. The two oldest females in K pod are K12 and K13, both estimated to have been born in 1972. K pod has three mature males, K21, and K26, and K25. The most recent calf born into K pod is K44 (male, born 2011), the first known calf of K27.
L Pod is by far the largest of the three Southern Resident pods. Its members currently total 36. L pod's mature males are L41, L84, L85, L87 and L88. L87 has been traveling with J pod since 2010. L pod had one new calf born in 2012, L119. L119 is the second and only surviving calf of L77.
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Photos were taken under MMPA permit #532-1822and/or DFO license #2006-08/SARA-34.
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The primary focus of CWR research is the Southern Resident population of killer whales (orcas).
All three pods uniting is referred to as a super pod. The photograph above was taken on July 7, 2010.
The Northern Resident community, which is found primarily in the Johnstone Strait area of British Columbia, and northern British Columbia, is made up of about 220 whales in 16 pods. The Northern and Southern Residents are fully described in the book Killer Whales by Ford, Ellis, and Balcomb (UBC/UW Press, 2000).
Another community of killer whales, called Transients, can be found in small groups from Mexico to the Bering Sea. They often appear in the Salish Sea and around Vancouver Island. Transients are characterized by a diet of marine mammals, especially seals, sea lions, and porpoises. There are over 250 transients, but they tend to travel in small groups of one to five individuals, staying close to shorelines, often near seal rookeries when pups are being weaned.
In 1991, another community, called Offshores, was discovered. These whales may be the ancestral population of the Northern and/or Southern Residents. They are most often seen 15 to 25 miles out at sea, off Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands), though members of this community have been seen from southern California to the Bering Sea.
Transient killer whales
(near Salt Spring Island, June 6, 2010)