From watching these majestic creatures from afar to exploring fossils, you can find plenty of news and activities related to the gorgeous orca, a.k.a. killer whale.
Residents and visitors alike are curious about the sea life that lives along the Oregon Coast. Keep reading to find out about a recent whale attack, an update on the southern population, new laws, and where you can learn a lot more about these amazing creatures.
Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW)
Western Oregonians are acutely aware of the decline in the salmon population. It has been impacting the fishing industry for years, creating shortages off of the Oregon Coast as well as in other locations well beyond Oregon. The price of salmon has skyrocketed for everyone.
However, it is not just people who are impacted by the reduced salmon populations. They are part of a diverse ecosystem that includes killer whales, also known as orcas.
Salmon is a favorite food for these large hunters, and they do not have a secondary food source large enough to make up for the deficit in salmon.
The Southern Resident Killer Whales consist of three pods of orcas that live in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. Members of all three pods are at risk of starving to death, in large part due to the declining numbers of Chinook salmon.
Unfortunately, starvation is only one risk these large apex predators are facing. According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, water pollution, vessel traffic and noise can also impact them. Additionally, there has been inbreeding which makes the population more vulnerable to disease and other dangers. These have all contributed to the problems faced by these animals.
Orcas: Endangered Species?
The SRKW have declined in population from almost 100 to 73. That decrease took place in only thirty years! One-quarter of the population is lost, and the rest in jeopardy. As a result, several groups have banded together to save those that remain.
The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. They want the killer whales to be listed under the Oregon Endangered Species Act. Fortunately, they had two more groups offering support to get this important situation addressed before it is too late.
They were joined by both the Defenders of Wildlife and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation. The petition these three groups brought forward was advanced by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission and will hopefully result in the orca being added to the list of endangered species in the state.
Our neighbors to the north in Washington are taking their own measures to help the orca populations in their waters. Gov. Inslee just signed a bill to keep recreational boaters at a greater distance. The important legislation more than triples the distance, from 300 to 1000 yards.
Killer Whales Living Up to Their Names
The SRKW are not the only orcas that swim in the waters near the Oregon Coast. There are also several “transient orcas” which have seen growing numbers. This subspecies relies on prey such as seals, sea lions and gray whales.
In fact, it is their love of gray whales that recently brought these transient orcas into the news. Cameras and video records show that a pack of these orcas went after a gray whale and her calf near Cape Foulweather. The calf did not survive.
Learn More About These Beautiful Apex Predators
If you are interested in learning about the largest members of the dolphin family, you can check out a new exhibit at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI).
The title of the exhibit is Orcas: Our Shared Future. It was produced by the Royal BC Museum of Canada and provides a comprehensive experience for guests.
Adult (14+) $18
Senior (63+) $15
Youth (3-13) $13
Infant (<3) Free
Orcas are an important part of the ocean ecosystems in Oregon and beyond. Check out the exhibit, and then figure out how you can help to ensure these apex predators remain for many generations to come.