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Southern Resident Orca (SRKW)

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SRKW Population update (Jan. 1, 2024): 74 whales
J Pod=25, K Pod=15, L Pod=34

Members of the Southern Resident orcas’ L pod swimming in Haro Strait on September 11, 2021

(Encounter #70). 

J, K, and L pod populations reduced significantly during the 1960s and early 1970s due to whale captures for marine park exhibitions. The abductors killed at least 13 orcas during the captures; 45 whales ended up in parks across the globe. No SRKW remains alive in captivity.
September 2023
Center for Whale Research

Southern Resident killer whale
Census 2023

The Center for Whale Research has completed its annual census of the Southern Resident killer whale population for the National Marine Fisheries Service. As of July 1, 2023, the Southern Resident killer whale population (J, K, and L pods) comprised 75 individuals—an increase from the July 1, 2022 census, when the orca population was 73. No deaths were recorded in the latest census period.

 

With no births or mortalities, J pod totals 25 individuals. K pod remains at 16 individuals, its lowest number in two decades. ​There were two births in the L12 subgroup: L126 (male, mother L119) and L127 (female, mother L94), upping the L pod census to 34 whales.

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J59 and mom, J37, on June 25, 2023 (OS Encounter #29).

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Southern Resident Orca
POPULATION*

The Southern Resident orcas are a large extended family or clan comprising J, K, and L pods.

The Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW; also called orcas/Orcinus orca) are a large extended family, or clan, comprised of J, K, and L pods. Within each pod, families form into sub-pods centered around older females, usually grandmothers or great-grandmothers. Male and female offspring remain in close association with their mothers for life.

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the population of the three pods was significantly reduced due to whale captures for marine park exhibitions. The abductors killed at least 13 orcas during the captures; 45 whales were delivered to parks worldwide (read CWR Blog: Captured! Sold to the highest bidder!). Seventy-one SRKWs survived in 1974. Following the death of Tokitae/Sk’aliChelt-tenaut in August 2023, no SRKW lives in captivity. 

 

The Southern Resident population grew during the late 1970s, 1980s, and mid-1990s, peaking at 98 animals. However, the population trend turned downward in the late 1990s, declining from 98 to 78 whales by 2001.

 

CWR’s July 1, 2023 population census counted 75 whales. 

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K45 surfaced beside her mom, K20, during 2023 OS Encounter #44.

CWR’s 2023 Orca Survey Southern Resident Killer Whale ID GUIDE PDF will be available for CWR Members to DOWNLOAD soon!
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Southern Resident Orca CLAN

J Pod

​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 British Columbia’s Georgia Strait. This pod used to frequent the inland waters of the Salish Sea from late spring through early fall, but in recent years, visits have shifted to a shorter timeframe (i.e., late summer/early fall: see 2022/23 Encounters). The most recent J pod birth was J59 in February 2022 (see 2022 Encounter #13).

​K Pod​

K pod is the Southern Resident killer whale pod with the fewest members. The most recent calf born into K pod is K45 (female), born in April 2022 to K20.​ K pod’s oldest member, a female, K12, is estimated to have been born in 1972. 

L Pod

L pod is the largest of the three Southern Resident pods. L25, estimated to have been born in 1928, is the oldest member of L pod and the oldest whale in the Southern Resident community. The pod’s newest calves, L126 (male) and L127 (female) were born into the population in 2023. CWR researchers obtained photos and drone footage confirming that L127 is female (UAV Encounter #6) and L126 is male (OS Encounter #34). Learn about distinguishing a female orca from a male.

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Southern Resident Orca Population // J, K, and L Pod Census

Copyright © 2023 Center for Whale Research.

Derivative use requires written approval.

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Southern Resident Orca Population // Births and Deaths

Copyright © 2022 Center for Whale Research.

Derivative use requires written approval.

Two officia SRKW count dats
Why are there two official SRKW count dates?
 
The Center for Whale Research reports the official annual count of Southern Resident orcas twice a year: July 1 and December 31.

Ken Balcomb explains why in this YouTube video, part of his Superpod 6 presentation (watch from 4:43 through 9:28).  

*The Southern Resident killer whale (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. The information on this page is updated on July 1 and December 31 each year. Please contact CWR directly for the most current information before publishing this population estimate. Any printed or broadcast reference to this population estimate must include credit to the Center for Whale Research.

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