ESR 37:105-118 (2018)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00918

Sightings of southern resident killer whales in the Salish Sea 1976–2014: the importance of a long-term opportunistic dataset

Jennifer K. Olson1,*, Jason Wood2, Richard W. Osborne3, Lance Barrett-Lennard4, Shawn Larson1

1The Whale Museum, Friday Harbor, WA 98250, USA
2SMRU Consulting, Friday Harbor, WA 98250, USA
3University of Washington, Olympic Natural Resources Center, Forks, WA 98331, USA
4Coastal Ocean Research Institute, Ocean Wise, Vancouver, BC, V6B 3X8, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Southern resident killer whales (SRKWs) Orcinus orca may be present year round in the Salish Sea, i.e. the inland waterways of Washington State (USA) and southern British Columbia (Canada). SRKWs were listed as endangered in 2005 under the US Endangered Species Act. The Whale Museum (Washington, USA) has been collecting opportunistic sightings reports on SRKWs since 1976 with a goal of providing managers and regulatory agencies with reliable spatial and temporal data on this population. Information in this dataset comes from 5 classes of killer whale sighting sources and is systematically evaluated for accuracy before integration into the dataset. From 1976 to 2014, The Whale Museum’s Orca Master dataset documented a total of 82447 SRKW sightings in the Salish Sea. Sightings were concentrated in a few key hot spots, with an overall pattern of consistent presence in the Central Salish Sea during the summer months and a presence in Puget Sound proper during the fall and early winter months. A shift in SRKW presence in Puget Sound was documented in the late 1990s, possibly driven by increased foraging on fall chum salmon Oncorhynchus keta by 2 pods (‘K’ and ‘L’), and is consistent with the hypothesis that the movement patterns of these whales may be driven by prey availability. The Whale Museum’s dataset highlights the importance of long-term monitoring to document shifts that may take decades, and shows how opportunistic datasets can be valuable tools for illuminating spatial and temporal trends.


KEY WORDS: Orca · Orcinus orca · Endangered species · Sightings database · Occurrence · Puget Sound


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Cite this article as: Olson JK, Wood J, Osborne RW, Barrett-Lennard L, Larson S (2018) Sightings of southern resident killer whales in the Salish Sea 1976–2014: the importance of a long-term opportunistic dataset. Endang Species Res 37:105-118. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00918

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