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ORCA FACTS

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are the largest members of the dolphin family. The southern resident orca population consists of three pods: J, K and L pods.
  • The southern resident orca population (J, K and L pods) was listed as endangered in 2005. World-wide, the only other endangered orcas are the AT1 pod, a transient pod impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
  • There are 73 orcas in the southern resident orca population today, slightly more the historical low of 71 animals in 1976, at the end of the capture era. When the captures were stopped, the population recovered and grew to a high of 96 animals in 1998, when their current decline began.
  • Resident orcas are tightly bonded to their families. Offspring stay with their mother, who stays with her mother, for their entire lives. Each pod consists of multiple generations who forage, rest and play together.
  • In July 2018, a young female orca Tahlequah (J35) grieved the loss of a newborn calfby carrying it with her for 17 days. Her journey drew worldwide attention the the plight of the southern resident orcas and galvanized recovery efforts. In 2020 she gave birth to another calf, J58, who has so far survived its perilous first years.
  • Southern resident orca habitat includes the Pacific Coast from Monterey CA to Tofino BC, and the inland waters of the Salish Sea. They depend on prey from six key sources: the Sacramento, Klamath, Columbia/Snake and Fraser rivers, and the whole of Puget Sound. They generally return to Georgia and Haro Straits in summer. From October to February they return to central Puget Sound, following winter chum runs.
  • Southern resident orcas are fish-eaters. Their diet includes a wide variety of fish but they prefer salmon, and Chinook salmon above all. Salmon is approximately 97% of their diet, and Chinook salmon is about 80% of that.
  • Puget Sound orcas are losing food supply due to overfishing and shrinking salmon populations, which are directly impacted by polluted rainwater that travels from our neighborhoods to Puget Sound though storm drains, rivers, and streams, and culverts that block their return to their home streams.
  • Orcas are the top predator in the sea. Toxins bioaccumulate and are stored in fat cells like blubber and mothers’ milk. The toxins may be released into their blood streams when they are stressed and hungry, and make them more susceptible to disease.
  • Orcas are acoustic animals. They use echolocation to find and hunt their prey, and a complex system of social calls to communicate with each other. Noise and disturbance from vessels makes it harder for orcas to forage, rest and socialize. A 2021 NOAA study showed that female southern resident orcas stop foraging when boats approach closer then 400 yards.

    Southern resident orcas are also vulnerable to oil spills and “ship strikes”, or collisions with boats at sea. Reducing noise and disturbance and the risk of oil spills and ship strikes are important solutions for orca recovery.

  • Between 1965 and 1976, the southern resident orcas were the target of live captures that removed more than 1/3 of the population for display in marine parks and aquaria. By the time the captures were stopped, more than 40 southern resident orcas had been removed or died during the attempt, including most of the calves and young mothers.

    The captures created a population gap and is one of the reasons the orcas are endangered today. Of all the residorcas that were captured, only two are still alive: southern resident Lolita (aka Tokitae) at the Miami Seaquarium and northern resident Corky at Sea World San Diego.

    Prior to the 1960s orcas were sometimes shot at by fisherman who perceived them as competition for prey.

FACT: SMALL CHANGES CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE!

Small changes we make to reduce polluting rainwater make a big difference!
  • Fix Car Leaks: www.FixCarLeaks.org
  • Practice Natural Yard Care:
  • Protect your family and the environment by using less toxic products (and dispose of them safely!):
  • Letting the rain soak in:

PHYSICAL/GEOGRAPHY FACTS

  • The Puget Sound coastline lies within 12 Washington State counties; a total of 14 counties are within the entire watershed. (PS Factbook p.21)
  • Puget Sound has 1,332 miles of coastline, not including the San Juan Islands or the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (PS Factbook p.16)

HUMAN DIMENSION FACTS

  • On average, 52,000 – 66,000 pounds of pollutants are released into the Puget Sound ecosystem each day. (PS Factbook, p.35)
  • There are nineteen federally recognized tribes within the Puget Sound region. (PS Factbook. p.21)
  • A one acre area of pavement produces 27,150 gallons of runoff for every one inch of rain. In Seattle, with about 37 inches of rain per year, that equals one million gallons of runoff. (Protecting Washington's waters from stormwater runoff, Ecology, p.3)
  • The economic costs of stormwater pollution in the Puget Sound region are expected to exceed $1 billion over the next ten years. (Protecting Washington's waters from stormwater runoff, Ecology, p.4)
  • The most common pathway for toxic chemicals to reach Puget Sound is through storm drains: rainwater falls on our roofs, yards, and streets and collects pollutants as it flows in storm drains. This rainwater flows directly to local streams and creeks without being treated before it heads to Puget Sound. (Puget Sound Toxics Assessment Fact Sheet, p.4)
  • One third of all of the copper in Puget Sound comes from pesticides and fertilizers that contain copper. Copper makes it hard for salmon to avoid predators and to find their way back to their spawning streams. (Puget Sound Toxics Assessment Fact Sheet, p.2, 5)
  • As one of the leading producers in the country, Washington State’s shellfish industry brings in over $100 million in sales every year. Over the last 40 years, polluted waters have caused 30% of Puget Sound’s shellfish growing areas to close. (Original source: Stormwater Runoff Pollution and how to Reduce it, King County.)
  • 86% of Puget Sound residents think that restoring Puget Sound is a good use of tax dollars. (PS Factbook, p.26)

NATURAL ENVIRONMENT/WILDLIFE FACTS

 

What is Puget Sound?

  • Puget Sound is a deep estuary – where saltwater and freshwater merge.
  • Puget Sound is also a huge region, stretching from the Cascade Mountains in the east to the Olympic Mountains in the west and from the Canadian border in the north to Mount Rainier in the south.
  • This region is made up of our local rivers and streams that flow through the region and eventually drain into Puget Sound, as well as the land that drains into these local bodies of water.
  • But, if you live here, you know that Puget Sound is more than water. It’s a diverse landscape filled with cities, suburbs, and agricultural areas. It’s a thriving economic area.
  • The land and water of Puget Sound are intrinsically connected. We rely on Puget Sound for healthy food, recreational opportunities, as well as a large part of our state’s economy. In turn, the health of Puget Sound and the creatures that rely on it are directly impacted by what happens on the land all around them.
  • The Puget Sound region covers 1.6 million acres (2,500 square miles) across 12 counties and is the place that approximately 4.3 million people call home.

RESOURCES


 

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This website was last modified on 8.17.2022.1644