Southern Resident Killer Whales and Pinnipeds

This page has become an archive of relevant and important documents on the subject of Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) and Pinnipeds.  We update this page periodically, add as new details become available and will retain a chronological order for additions.

October 12, 2021 – Southern resident killer whales encounter higher prey densities than northern resident killer whales during summer (

UBC Press Release: No apparent shortage of prey for southern resident killer whales – October 12, 2021

Authors: Mei SatoAndrew W. Trites, and Stéphane Gauthier

The decline of southern resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) may be due to a shortage of prey, but there is little data to test this hypothesis. We compared the availability of prey (Chinook salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) sought by southern residents in Juan de Fuca Strait during summer with the abundance and distribution of Chinook available to the much larger and growing population of northern resident killer whales feeding in Johnstone Strait. We used ship-based multifrequency echosounders to identify differences in prey fields that may explain the dynamics of these two killer whale populations. Contrary to expectations, we found that both killer whale habitats had patchy distributions of prey that did not differ in their frequencies of occurrence, nor in the size compositions of individual fish. However, the density of fish within each patch was 4–6 times higher in the southern resident killer whale habitat. These findings do not support the hypothesis that southern resident killer whales are experiencing a prey shortage in the Salish Sea during summer and suggest a combination of other factors is affecting overall foraging success.

November 6, 2020 – Dr. Carl Walters – Role of marine mammal predation in recent B.C. fishery collapse

Emeritus Professor Carl Walters presented an online seminar on September 22, 2020 and at the SFI Policy Conference Webinar on November 6 on the Role of marine mammal predation in recent B.C. fishery collapses.  A copy of the presentation in PDF is linked here.

Related and relevant to Dr. Walters remarks, a Times Colonist article recently detailed specific challenges with sea lions in Cowichan Bay:

Sea lions throw a party on Cowichan Bay’s federal breakwater to feast on spawning salmon – Carla Wilson, Times Colonist, November 12, 2020

July 21, 2020 – 2020 Management Measures to Protect Southern Resident Killer Whales

Regarding the Government of Canada’s 2020 Management Measures to Protect Southern Resident Killer Whales, several outreach and education products have been made available by joint efforts of Transport Canada, Fisheries & Oceans Canada, Parks Canada, Environment & Climate Change Canada.  These materials are made available here and provide information on this 2020 management measures and are intended to increase awareness of the rules.

Outreach and education materials with as many individuals and groups as possible will raise public awareness and increase the number of boaters/vessel operators and fishers who understand their responsibilities on the water. Combined efforts will help increase compliance on the water and support the recovery of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale.

Please note, from August 1 to October 31, 2020, there will be no recreational or commercial salmon fishing allowed in Southern Resident Killer Whale key foraging (feeding) areas found in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Gulf Islands (located within Southern Resident Killer Whale critical habitat).

Be Whale Wise is a partnership between Canadian and U.S. organizations and agencies and the material provides information on rules and guidelines for boating around marine mammals and birds in both Canadian and U.S. waters.

 Additional information can be found:

June 1, 2020

Interim Order for the Protection of Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) in the Waters of Southern British Columbia, 2020

A reminder that as of June 1, 2020, Transport Canada’s Interim Order for the Protection of Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) in the Waters of Southern British Columbia, 2020 is in effect including:

  • Minimum 400 metre approach distance (year-round)
  • Vessels are prohibited from approaching any killer whale within a 400-metre distance in all southern BC coastal waters between Campbell River and just north of Ucluelet.
  • Certain whale watching and ecotourism companies who receive an authorization from the Minister of Transport, will be allowed to view non-Southern Resident Killer Whales from 200 metres, in recognition of their ability to distinguish between ecotypes. Authorized companies will have a purple flag with ‘AV’ denoted in the middle. This measure is in addition to the 200-metre approach distance for all killer whales in Canadian fisheries waters in the Pacific Ocean and BC, other than in the area described above.

Interim Sanctuary Zones (June 1 – November 30)

  • Interim Sanctuary Zones will be in effect off Pender Island, Saturna Island and at Swiftsure Bank.
  • No vessel traffic and no fishing will be allowed in these areas, with some exceptions including: vessels accessing local residences, business or services; vessels in distress or providing assistance to a person or vessel in distress; vessels avoiding immediate or unforeseen danger; Indigenous peoples exercising existing rights. Additionally, a 20 metre corridor along the shoreline of the Pender and Saturna Island Interim Sanctuary Zones has been created to allow those in human-powered vessels to transit safely through these areas.

Additional measures:

Fisheries Management Measure

  • Area-based fishing closures will be in effect in the Juan de Fuca Strait and Southern Gulf Islands for recreational and commercial salmon fisheries through the summer and fall.
  • More information on specific dates will be announced in June.
  • Fishers are also asked to stop fishing within 1,000 metres of all killer whales.

Best practices to Be Whale Wise

  • Reduce speed to 7 knots or less when within 1000 metres of the nearest marine mammal.
  • Turn off echo sounders and fish finders when safe to do so.
  • Place engine in neutral idle and allow animals to pass if you find yourself within 400 metres of a killer whale.

ECHO Program ( large commercial vessel measures

  • Haro Strait and Boundary Pass voluntary vessel slowdown (potential effective date June 1 – Oct 31, based on whale presence)
    • Large commercial vessels slow down to speed through water targets: 11.5kn (bulkers, tankers, general cargo) or 14.5kn (containers, car carriers, cruise)

Strait of Juan de Fuca voluntary inshore lateral displacement (June 1 – October 31)

    •  Inshore vessels (tugs) move further away from shore into lateral displacement zone

2020 Management Measures to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales

Interim Order FAQs

Be Whale Wise

A reminder to please be aware of ongoing rules and guidance under the Transport Canada COVID-19 Interim Order and the Transport Canada Guidance for Pleasure Craft.

April 1, 2020

NOAA Fisheries – West Coast Salmon Fishing and Southern Residents: Part 1

West Coast salmon fisheries catch a small share, leaving prey for Southern Residents.



Mobile avoidance sanctuaries, chinook enhancement, specific predator control and habitat rehabilitation can help both SRKW recover and for coastal communities to thrive.  Watch the Coastal Alliance and SFI clip above and visit for more information.


May 2019 – The Government of Canada (GOC)  has taken steps to protect and recover the SRKW population.  There is recognition that SRKW face imminent threats to their survival and recovery and that immediate action is required.

On May 10, the GOC announced 2019 SRKW recovery measures. New measures for vessels to follow include:

Effective June 1 – October 31, 2019:

      • A mandatory 400 metre approach distance for all killer whales throughout SRKW critical habitat, with the ability of the Minister of Transport to authorize commercial whale watching companies to approach other killer whale ecotypes to 200 metres, subject to certain conditions.
      • Mandatory interim sanctuaries with restrictions on fishing and vessel activity in Swiftsure Bank, south Saturna Island and west of Pender Island.

Effective August 1 – October 31, 2019:

      • Mandatory area-based fisheries closures for recreational and commercial salmon in key foraging areas.

Other actions to take while SRKW are present in BC waters in greater numbers:

      • A voluntary go slow and fishery avoidance zone, asking boaters to reduce their speed to less than 7 knots and avoid fishing when within 1,000 metres of a whale in the Enhanced Management Areas that have been identified through the Gulf Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Mouth of the Fraser River.
      • Voluntary measures asking vessel operators to reduce noise by turning echo sounders off when not in use and turning their engines to neutral idle when within 400 metres of a whale.

The GOC is seeking help to get information on these measures out to those who are operating vessels in the area.

The 2019 SRKW recovery measures education brochure is linked here.

For more information on the 2019 measures please follow these links:

Interim Order for the Protection of Killer Whales

Frequently Asked Questions: Interim Order

Whales Initiative: Protecting the Southern Resident Killer Whale

Protecting species at risk is a responsibility shared by all Canadians and the federal government is committed to working with Indigenous people, provincial and territorial governments, and relevant industry stakeholders to achieve this goal.


Discussion and research continues on the subject of Southern Resident Killer Whales.  Of note and interest, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recently published findings regarding prey availability for SRKW in Juan De Fuca Strait.  Findings are relevant to our waters and can be read here: Fishery Effects on SRKW – Jan28, 2019

The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans Canada – Eighteenth Report

The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans Canada was tasked to study the Situation of Endangered Whales and provide a report – December 2018.

The Standing committee heard from many witness over the fall of 2018 regarding whales, SRKW, Beluga and Right Whales, in Canadian waters.  Owen Bird and Martin Paish, SFI, appeared in Ottawa on October 30 and provided comments about SRKW and consultation to date.  The linked report provides recommendations including ensuring that socio-economic information is gathered and properly considered, that local and traditional knowledge is incorporated in findings, that enhancement of Chinook stocks be initiated and specific predator control plans be developed and implemented.

Saving the Resident Killer Orca – Washington State Policy Proposal

Governor Inslee of Washington State puts forward an unprecedented funding package proposal that will support recovery efforts of SRKW and Chinook salmon stocks – December 2018

2018 Annual BC Marine Mammal Symposium – linked below and here

December 5, 2018 – Recovery Strategy for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) in Canada – Final

November 2018 – The Truth about Orcas, Seals and Chinook: A PSF Presentation  Scientists Dr. Brian Riddell and Dr. Andrew Trites address how we got here and what needs to be done in a presentation hosted by the Pacific Salmon Foundation.

September 17, 2018  – An SFI member update including details about upcoming information sessions and suggestions for developing a response to discussions regarding establishment of Critical Habitat areas.  And, find some relevant links and documents about Southern and Northern Killer Whales at the bottom of the page and as follows:

Habitats of Special Importance to Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) off the West Coast of Canada

Science Advisory Report 2017/011 – Identification of Habitats of Special Importance to Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) off the West Coast of Canada

SAR Public Registry

There has been discussion about the health of Southern Resident Killer Whales over many years, a symposium in the fall of 2017 and associated comments by the Fisheries Minister at the time, the Honourable Dominic Leblanc, signaled an interest and a call to action by government to make changes to the circumstances and environment that SRKW currently find themselves.

While the approach to Southern Resident Killer Whale recovery efforts will likely be multi-faceted there would seem little doubt that the recreational sector needs to be aware of the issue and prepared to modify activities so that we can be a part of the recovery of these magnificent animals.  While scientific studies agree that ceasing harvest will not provide the desired increase in abundance of Chinook salmon for SRKW, there is evidence that increasing production of chinook salmon and addressing marine noise and disturbances should help.  Reduction of marine noise can be affected immediately by reducing speeds and agreeing to leave a wide corridor around moving Killer Whales.  Increasing numbers of Chinook salmon, Killer Whales preferred food, can take place relatively quickly and can be augmented and enhanced through use of ocean pens to temporarily hold and feed juvenile Chinook.  The survival rates of juvenile salmon held even for a month in an ocean pen is as much as 10 times higher, from 3% to as high as 30%, than that of fry or smolt entering the ocean directly from estuarine or river environments.  A combination of reduced interaction or interference with the whales as they try to feed and forage and a concerted effort to increase production of Chinook salmon generally and particularly using ocean net pens to briefly hold and feed juveniles would by, many accounts, go a long way to aiding in the recovery of these fantastic animals.

We will dedicate this space to provide updates and links to important and relevant information on the subject.

The Effects of Salmon Fisheries on SRKW – Final Report of the Independent Science Panel prepared for NOAA and DFO

SFI Letter Regarding SRKW – November 2017

SRKW and Chinook – DFO Presentation given at the SFI Conference – November 2017

Competing Tradeoffs – Marine Mammal Predation and Fisheries Harvest of Chinook Salmon – Scientific Reports

Seals and Sea Lions may be slowing salmon recovery, hurting Orcas – Christopher Dunagan, Puget Sound Institute

Be Whale Wise – a promotional effort and website aimed at spreading the word to Pacific Northwest residents about the regulations that govern human-whale interaction.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada – Ecosystems and Ocean Science Documents:

Chinook salmon abundance levels and survival of resident Killer Whales – 2009

Identification of habitats of special importance to resident Killer Whales (Orcinus Orca) off the west coast of Canada

Link to the Species at Risk Public Registry documents: Action Plan for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) in Canada

SRKW Discussion Paper: Proposed 2018 Salmon Fishery Management Measures to Support Chinook Salmon Prey Availability for Southern Resident Killer Whales – February 15, 2018

SRKW Prey Workshop 2018 – Availability of Prey for Southern Resident Killer Whales

SRKW DFO Presentation – Webinar – Feb 23, 2018

SRKW Feb 23, 2018 DFO Handout

SFAB SRKW Committee Report to the SFAB: A summary of special SFAC meetings in early 2018 and a motion regarding proposed measures – April 14, 2018

SFI response to conservation measures for Northern and Southern BC Chinook Salmon and Southern Resident Killer Whales Fishery Notice – May 30, 2018

External review of the critical habitat section of the draft amended recovery strategy for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales in Canada – Consultation period June 12 – July 11, 2018

RKW External Review – DFO invitation – June 2018

Critical habitat section of draft Amended – DFO document – June 2018

September 5, 2018 Lawsuit launched to protect southern resident orca – Audio link to CBC Radio with Dr. Andrew Trites

Minister fires back at groups for suing over killer whales – Times Colonist – September 9, 2018

Dr. Andrew Trites at the 25th Annual B.C. Marine Mammal Symposium in Vancouver – November 2017

Additional and Relevant Documents – regarding salmon and pinnipeds

Island Marine Aquatic Working Group – Diagram of competing tradeoffs

Demographic changes in Chinook salmon across the Northeast Pacific Ocean

2018 Annual BC Marine Mammal Symposium

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