Southern Resident Killer Whale research project
When you visit Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and look out at the Pacific Ocean, you are looking at Southern Resident Killer Whale habitat. Parks Canada, in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada, Indigenous partners, non-government organizations and academia, is increasing its understanding of Southern Resident Killer Whale distribution in the marine waters of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and how they interact with the ecosystem as a whole, keeping with the Nuu-chah-nulth principle hišukiš t̓swak (everything is one). Over the next five years, a science and monitoring program will be in place to address the three key threats to the survival of Southern Resident Killer Whales: prey availability, physical and acoustic disturbance, and contaminants.
Killer Whales are an important part of the culture of the Nuu-chah-nulth people, as well as many other indigenous peoples. Amongst the Nuu-chah-nulth, there is great respect for killer whales, also known as kakaw̓in, or referred to as “relatives/family”. As a visitor to this place, you are in the hahuułi/traditional territories of nine Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, including:
- Ditidaht First Nation
- Hupačasath First Nation
- Huu-ay-aht First Nations
- Pacheedaht First Nation
- Tseshaht First Nation
- Toquaht Nation
- Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations
- Uchucklesaht Tribe
- Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ Government
Southern Resident Killer Whales
There are three ecotypes of killer whale that can be found in British Columbia: Offshore, Transient (Bigg’s) and Residents. The Resident ecotype is divided into the Northern and Southern Resident populations, and although their range does overlap they don’t interact or breed with each other. Both Northern and Southern Resident populations can be found in the waters off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
The Southern Resident Killer Whales are identified as endangered under the Species at Risk Act, with only 72 (as of April 2020) individuals remaining in the population. They typically spend the summer and fall months in the Salish Sea (Strait of Georgia, Haro Strait, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound), including areas around Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.
- They are a very social species that shares language and culture
- Individuals spend their entire lives with their mothers
- They are fish eaters and primarily eat Chinook Salmon (over 80% of their diet)
- Males can live 50-60 years and females for 90 years or more. The oldest Southern Resident Killer Whale, Granny (J-2), was estimated to be 105 years old when she died.
Scope of study
Parks Canada is contributing to the Government of Canada’s effort to support the recovery of Southern Resident Killer Whales in southern British Columbia. This research will help Parks Canada and local First Nations better understand how to support the recovery of Southern Resident Killer Whales and the entire food web.
There is a complimentary research and monitoring effort in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Parks Canada, in collaboration with Indigenous partners and other federal departments, is also taking action to support the recovery of Southern Resident Killer Whales through enforcement and outreach, interpretation and education programs.
To better understand the distribution and movements of Southern Resident Killer Whales in the marine waters of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Parks Canada is undertaking year-round nearshore vessel surveys using visual and acoustic techniques. Photo identification techniques are being used to identify Southern Resident Killer Whale pod presence and demographics. In addition, the placement of listening stations using a portable hydrophone system is supplementing visual observations with acoustic data.
Report your sightings:
You can support this research by reporting your whale sightings to the BC Cetacean Sightings Network. Download the WhaleReport App or call 1-866-I-SAW-ONE. Your reports are used to obtain valuable information about distribution patterns and help in future recovery and management plans for species at risk like the Southern Resident Killer Whale.
Pinnipeds, such as Steller Sea Lions, share the marine waters with Southern Resident Killer Whales. To get a better understanding of how pinnipeds interact within this ecosystem, Parks Canada is conducting research to quantify year-round usage of sea lion haul-outs in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
In addition, Parks Canada is collaborating with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to collect sea lion scat samples to support diet analysis as it relates to competition with Southern Resident Killer Whales in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
Southern Resident Killer Whales primarily eat Chinook Salmon, and the killer whales are struggling to find enough food to eat.
Parks Canada is identifying stream systems that historically supported Chinook Salmon and Chum Salmon populations in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. This helps to provide valuable information on the current status of Chinook Salmon and Chum Salmon populations in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve as well as support future stream restoration efforts. Stream restoration efforts provide habitat for spawning adults and safe nurseries for juveniles.
Eat sustainable seafood.
Many people like to eat fish. Choose the salmon you eat based on sustainable seafood guidelines such as Ocean Wise.
Forage fish such as Pacific Sand Lance, Surf Smelt and Pacific Herring, are small fish which are preyed on by larger predators for food. For example, Pacific Sand Lance are an important food source for Chinook Salmon, so if the Pacific Sand Lance population struggles, the effects could be felt by the Southern Resident Killer Whales, which eat Chinook Salmon.
Parks Canada is identifying important habitat for these fish, including intertidal spawning habitat for Pacific Sand Lance and Surf Smelt, subtidal burying habitat for Pacific Sand Lance, and pelagic foraging habitats for Pacific Sand Lance, Surf Smelt, Pacific Herring and Shiner Perch. We will continue to monitor changes in forage fish populations at beach sites and spawning sites over the next five years in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
Parks Canada is working with Ocean Wise to expand Ocean Wise’s Pollution Tracker program through the addition of a sample location in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
Follow all management measures to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales. By adopting good practices in our daily lives, we contribute to protection efforts. Your participation is essential. Learn more by following the links below:
2020 Southern Resident Killer Whale Management Measures – Includes information on mandatory approach distances, interim sanctuary zones and area-based fishery closures.
- Keep 400m away from Killer Whales when visiting Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
- Do not enter Interim Sanctuary Zone at Swiftsure Bank (just outside Pacific Rim National Park Reserve waters) from June 1- Nov 30, 2020
- Be aware of area-based fishing closures for recreational and commercial salmon fishing in the Juan de Fuca Strait from August 1 – Oct 31, 2020
When you are in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, please call Parks Canada Emergency Dispatch to report any violations or incidents involving marine mammals to Park Wardens or the appropriate Parks Canada team member.
If you are outside of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, please report any violations or incidents involving marine mammals (that you overserved or were involved in) to Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s 24/7 Observe, Record, Report Line: