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Southern Resident Killer Whales

Have you met the Southern Resident Orcas? One uses the term ‘met’, because those who know them will attest to the fact that the experience is far greater than to simply ‘see’.

Lean in, hear their breath. Watch their fascinating movements and delight in the stories told of each pod, discovering how each individual whale has a tale to be shared. Many will know, but for those who don’t, the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population consists of three pods known as J, K, and L. This strictly fish-eating group can also be referred to as J clan, and has fluctuated between a high of 98 and low of 71 individuals since surveys began in 1976. Presently, the Centre for Whale Research census finds 78 whales living in the waters of British Columbia, Canada, and Washington State, U.S.A. Killer whales (or orcas, both are correct) have held positions of cultural importance to coastal First Nations communities since time immemorial, and are subjects of great scientific and cultural interest in the modern day.

There are several top reasons why scientists believe that these whales are struggling to maintain a stable population, all of which will be explored here in this journal series over the coming months. We will discuss cases of individual whales, living and passed, whose lives have helped us to comprehend some of the biggest threats to cetacean populations worldwide – illuminating a path toward a cleaner and healthier future for our oceans.

Of course these whales we have improved upon more than just our understanding of the perils of a modern ocean. As some of the most intelligent animals on the planet, the Southern Resident Killer Whales have helped us discover and appreciate the vast cognitive abilities and social natures of marine mammals. We owe much of this knowledge to a dedicated group of marine scientists who undertook a long-term study with the goal of changing our distorted modern views. No longer were these the unintelligent bloodthirsty beasts of the early 20th century – we finally recognized that they are fascinating sentient creatures worthy of freedom, admiration, and respect.

Next week we get started by examining the impact one of the most iconic whales of our time, a female known as ‘J2’, or more commonly ‘Granny’.

Words by: Amanda Madro

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