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Southern Resident Orca (SRKW)

POPULATION

SRKW Population (July 1, 2022): 73 whales
J Pod=25, K Pod=16, L Pod=32

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

(Encounter #70). 

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the population of J, K, and L 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. Only one SRKW remains alive in captivity.
September 2022
Center for Whale Research

Southern Resident killer whale
Census 2022

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, 2022, the Southern Resident killer whale population comprised 73 individuals. A decrease from the census as of July 1, 2021, when the orca population was 74.

From July 1, 2021, to July 1, 2022, the population had three deaths: K21, K44, and L89. K21 was last seen in late July 2021 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, severely emaciated. When he failed to be seen in subsequent encounters with his social associates, he was declared deceased soon after. From community observations, we know that K44 was alive as of late April 2022; however, he was not seen in subsequent encounters with his family. The body of a juvenile male killer whale, matching K44’s size and with markings consistent with a southern resident, was found entangled off the Oregon coast in late June, however, a lack of further photographs or biological samples prevents a definitive ID. L89 was last seen in late 2021 and not seen in 2022, despite repeated encounters with his mother and social group.

During this period, there were also two new births. J37 had her second offspring, J59, in February of 2022. In May, CWR observation determined that J59 is female. K20 also had her second offspring, K45, sometime in April 2022. While CWR has encountered K45 on multiple occasions since then, this calf’s sex is currently unknown. Both calves appeared healthy in recent observations.

The July 1, 2022 census marks the lowest L pod census since the study began in 1976, with 32 individuals. K pod sits at its lowest number in the last two decades, at 16 individuals. With no mortalities and a single birth, J pod now totals 25 individuals.

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L82 spyhopping on September 15, 2021 (Encounter #74).

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Southern Resident Orca
POPULATION*

The Southern Resident orcas are a large extended family, or clan, comprised of 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!) Only one SRKW is alive in captivity (Tokitae/Sk’aliChelt-tenaut/Lolita). Seventy-one SRKWs survived in 1974.

 

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 later 1990s, declining from 98 to 78 whales by 2001.

 

CWR’s July 1, 2022 population census counted 73 whales. CWR will update this count on December 31, 2022.

J57 (below) surfacing in Haro Strait on September 12, 2021 (Encounter #71).

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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 2021 Encounters). The most recent J pod births were J57 and J58 in autumn 2020 (see 2020 Encounter #40 and 2020 Encounter #54).

​K Pod​

K pod is the Southern Resident killer whale pod with the fewest members. The most recent calf born into K pod is K44 (male, born 2011), the first known calf of K27.​ K pod’s oldest male, K21 died in July 2021 (see K21 - Gravely-ill Southern Resident killer whale).

CWR’s updated 2021 Orca Survey SRKW ID GUIDE is available to CWR Members as a FREE PDF download.
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L Pod

L pod is by far the largest of the three Southern Resident pods. L25, estimated to have been born in 1928, is both the oldest member of L pod and the oldest whale in the Southern Resident community. Sadly, one of L pod’s other matriarchs, L47, was missing in September 2021. The pod’s newest calf, L125, was born into the population in January 2021 and is a healthy female (Encounter #8).

*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 be in touch with CWR directly for the most current information before publication this population estimate. Any published or broadcast reference to this population estimate must include credit to the Center for Whale Research.

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 thru 9:28).  
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Southern Resident Orca Population // J, K, and L Pod Census

Copyright © 2022 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.