Killer whale (orca) conservation and management

Overview

Orca breaching in Puget Sound
Ken Rea

Classified as an endangered species, Southern Resident killer whales are a beloved icon of the Pacific Northwest, holding significant cultural value to native tribes. In addition, the whale-watching industry contributes up to $60 million per year to Washington's economy and supports hundreds of jobs in the Puget Sound region. Learn more about the killer whale and its habitat on our killer whale web page

Three primary threats to the whales are:

  1. A lack of prey 
  2. Contaminants
  3. Disturbance from noise and vessel traffic

Despite their endangered listing, the southern resident killer whale population has continued to decline, signaling that they need additional intervention in their recovery. WDFW is committed to conserving and protecting these iconic animals and is working tirelessly to support their return from the brink of extinction. In addition to serving on Governor Inslee's Southern Resident Orca Task Force, some of our recent efforts to support southern resident killer whale recovery include: 

  • Leading salmon habitat restoration projects throughout Puget Sound.
  • Supporting additional protections for forage fish and salmon. 
  • Increase the number of salmon produced at hatcheries by more than 26 million annually and making improvements to state hatcheries. Learn more in our video
  • Increasing spill over the Columbia and Snake river dams benefit Chinook salmon, a major part of the Southern Resident killer whale diet. 
  • Decreasing impacts of predatory fish on salmon. The Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted liberalized bag limits for bass, walleye, and channel catfish in December 2019. These limits went into effect February 17, 2020.
  • Developing a comprehensive state statewide culvert remediation plan to support orca and salmon recovery the the Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board. 
  • Expanding support for management of pinniped populations on the lower Columbia river and its tributaries in an effort to increase the amount of Chinook salmon available for southern resident orcas. 
  • Setting supportive fishing seasons using stringent science-based quotas to support orca conservation. 
  • Ramping up outreach and education, and enforcement of Be Whale Wise regulations to protect SRKW. Watch our Be Whale Wise video
  • Adopting rules for commercial viewing of Southern Residents. Learn more on our Commercial Whale Watching Licensing Program web page

Learn more in our blog post

How you can help 

  • Be Whale Wise: Noise makes it harder for whales to hunt successfully. Stay out of the path of orcas of at least 400 yards in front of or behind them and 300 yards on either side. Learn more at bewhalewise.org. If you observe harassment or disturbance of marine mammals, please help by reporting it as soon as possible to NOAA Fisheries enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964 or the WDFW enforcement line at 877-933-9847 and/or or report online at bewhalewise.org. For offenses in progress, please call 911.
  • Report sightings to WhaleReport: If you see a whale from land or at sea, report your sighting to WhaleReport. Reporting your sightings to WhaleReport is the fastest and most reliable way to ensure that large vessel operators and WDFW Enforcement are aware of whales’ presence. The more that people use Whale Report, the better protected the whales will be. Download from the App Store or Google Play.
  • Consider volunteering to restore salmon habitat. Contact your local Regional Fisheries Enhancement Group to learn more about opportunities, such as tree plantings or work parties, to give back to streams and rivers in your community.
  • Opt for a personalized license plate.  For more than 40 years, the sale of personalized license plates has been the primary source of funding for the management of endangered wildlife, including killer whales. You can buy personalized plates through the Washington Department of Licensing — initial fees and renewal fee varies by location and type of vehicle. A portion of sales — $2 from each plate purchased — supports the care and rehabilitation of sick, injured or orphaned wildlife. 
  • Support clean, healthy water. Whether it's fixing a car leak, or planting native plants in your yard, there are a lot of small ways you can support clean, healthy water. Visit Puget Sound Starts Here to learn more. Consider products that are safer for the environment. Look for the Environmental Protection Agency's Safer Choice label to limit the use of chemicals that end up in our waterways. 
  • Be an Orca Steward! Learn more about additional ways you can help the Southern Residents from our friends at The Whale Museum

Resources

Information and guidelines

Killer whale information and fact sheets

State and federal policies and management