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Southern Resident Orca (SRKW)

SRKW Population update (January 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.
Center for Whale Research
Southern Resident killer whale
Census 2023

The Center for Whale Research (CWR) completed its annual census of the Southern Resident killer whale (SRKW) population. As of January 1, 2024, the official SRKW population in J, K, and L pods comprised 75 individuals. 


During the 2023 calendar year, the population gained three individuals (L126, L127, and J60) and lost one (K34). J60 has not been observed during J pod encounters since January 7, 2024, and is considered deceased. For this reason, CWR publicizes the current SRKW population as 74.


Note. This page reflects Center for Whale Research data up to December 31, 2023. CWR encounters since January 1, 2024, will inform our July 1 census numbers.


J Pod 

J pod was the most consistently sighted pod during the 2023 Center for Whale Research field season. It was represented in 22 of 30 survey days and encountered every month other than January. The pod was socially cohesive, generally appearing as a single social group in our sampling. There was a single birth in J pod in 2023 (J60) and no deaths; however, J60 likely died in January 2024. J pod currently counts 25 members.


K Pod 

K pod was CWR’s least sampled social group (9 of 36 encounters). The pod continues to be socially cohesive, including the K16 matriline, which has continued to be well-integrated following the death of K21. K pod experienced one death (K34) and no births during 2023. K pod currently counts 15 members.


L Pod 

CWR observed L pod members on 15 of 30 encounter days. They continue to primarily travel in three distinct social groups. The main group comprises the L47s, L4s, L72s, and L90. The next largest group is the L12 subgroup: L11s, L22, L25, and L85. The L54 matriline and L88 make up the final group. L87 remains the most socially fluid individual in the Southern Resident population. He has traveled mostly with the L4s since the death of J17. However, in the latter half of 2023, he appeared mainly with the L12s (a subgroup that contains L22, likely his closest maternal relative). L pod experienced no mortalities and two births (L126 and L127) in 2023. L pod currently counts 34 members.


J59 bellyflopping on March 22 (2024 OS Encounter #23).

Orca EYE and NET_edited.jpg
Southern Resident Orca

The Southern Resident orcas are an 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. 

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. In recent years, visits have shifted to a shorter timeframe: late summer to early fall. J pod matriarch J16 is the pod’s oldest member, estimated to have been born in 1972.

​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.​ Like J pod, 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 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 (2023 UAV Encounter #6) and L126 is male (2023 OS Encounter #34). Learn about distinguishing the sex of an orca.


K45 on June 1during 2024 OS Encounter #46.

CWR’s 2023 Orca Survey Southern Resident Killer Whale ID GUIDE PDF is available for CWR Members to DOWNLOAD.
ID guide - cover.jpg

Orca held in a net during the capture years.

Read the CWR Blog: Captured! Sold to the highest bidder!

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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 official 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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