Orcas are More Than Mascots

Images of orcas adorn tourism brochures, but the real southern resident killer whales are experiencing lower numbers than ever.

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Photo from PacificStock/allcanadaphotos.com

Images of orcas are plentiful on the South Island. They star in tourism brochures, entertain us as mascots, and they lend their names to dozens of companies and brands.

But the real orcas, the southern residents who live in our local waters, are in big trouble.

With just 73 individuals left, their numbers are at a 30-year low.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, “Survival has become uncertain for the southern resident killer whale.” Major threats include the decline of Chinook salmon stock, chemical contaminants and noise from marine traffic, which makes it hard for orcas to use echolocation to find and hunt salmon.

As a note of hope for the population, which hadn’t experienced a successful birth since 2016, two calves born this year have been spotted swimming with their mothers. The next few years will tell if the southern residents can recover to healthier numbers — or continue toward extinction.

This article is from the October/November 2019 issue of Douglas.