Killer Whale
Photo by Captain Russ of BC Whale Tours

A new study in Nature warns that Southern Resident killer whales are at risk of extinction.

Inhabiting the Northwest Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver Island, the small community of orcas is in danger of disappearing unless drastic actions are taken.

According to the study, under current conditions, they have a 25 percent chance of being wiped out in the next 100 years.

Primary threats:

  • Limitation of preferred prey (i.e. Chinook salmon)
  • Human-caused noise and disturbance (i.e. from tankers) which reduce foraging efficiency
  • High levels of stored contaminants, including PCBs.

The research team was led by Robert Lacy, Ph.D., Conservation Scientist for the Chicago Zoological Society, and Paul Paquet, Ph.D., from the BC-based Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

The population of Southern Resident killer whales is already down to the double digits – 78 to be exact – across the Salish Sea and the northern coast of Washington state.

Federal Government Takes Action, But is it Enough?

On Thursday, October 26, the Federal Government enacted regulations requiring boaters to stay at least 200 metres away from resident killer whales in Canadian waters. The United States already had similar regulations in place.

However, that move might not prove pivotal, especially without enforcement.

The study also warns that the future will likely bring added threats. For example, increased shipping and potential oil spill risks – such as those which would result from the Trans Mountain pipeline – will make the ocean noisier. Decreases in Chinook salmon supplies are also expected to decrease due to climate change.

In the longer term, one method of existing noise-reducing technology used by the navy could be applied commercial and recreational vessels.

Another option would be to create “no-go zones” for vessels in key feeding areas.

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