Tracking Orca Health

Credit: NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium.

Credit: NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium.

I’ve never been lucky enough to see an orca in the wild. But I’m still dazzled and thrilled just knowing that such magnificent creatures are out there, swimming freely in our Salish Sea. To me they symbolic of our little part of the world, a feeling enhanced by growing up around the art of the Coastal Salish people, which often incorporates them.

A joint research project between the Vancouver Aquarium and NOAA Fisheries is studying the Northern and Southern Resident Populations to track the health of our orcas, using drones to capture high quality images. Drones can take photos from much closer than helicopters or planes without disturbing the animals.

The scientists use the photos to make measurements, which they can then compare from season-to-season and year-to-year. This tells them if the orcas are getting enough to eat, if they are pregnant, and so on. The health of the orcas is closely tied to the health of salmon runs since, unlike orcas in other parts of the world, ours primarily feed on salmon.

This year the orcas are looking better, and five calves have been born in the last year. This baby boom is encouraging, because the orca population in the Salish Sea is endangered. There are only 81 individuals remaining in the Southern Resident Population, and that’s with the addition of the new calves.

If you’re interested in seeing more pictures and learning about the study you can go to this link on the NOAA Fisheries site.


5 thoughts on “Tracking Orca Health

  1. You should go to San Juan County Park as part of your blog and to see Orcas! They come up right by the park usually at least once a day, though I think that’s primarily in the summer months.


    • Thanks for mentioning this! It’s a great tip and hopefully my readers can take advantage of it. Lack of finances and anxiety make going to San Juan Island improbable for me. (Anxiety sucks!)

      However, my mom just bought a summer home last month that is on Fidalgo Island near La Conner. I’m hoping she’ll get a bed for the guest room next summer so I can go visit and use it as a jumping off place for some park exploring up there. I know there are websites that track the orcas, so if that happens maybe I can time things appropriately and get lucky!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I’m so happy to hear about the baby boom! Usually, the news we hear of the orcas is so bad.

    I’ve seen orcas in the wild twice, once this summer while on the Mukilteo Ferry and once out by Kayak Point. Although I’m not completely sure I trust my eyes on that last one. It seems like that bay would be shallow for them.


    • Lucky! I always keep my eyes peeled, but no luck so far. The only whales I’ve ever seen in the wild was when I was 13 and my family was camped on a beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The gray whales (I think) were migrating and we could see their spouts and rolling backs from shore.

      On all my ferry trips over the years the only marine mammals I’ve ever seen were some harbor porpoises one time near Kingston (that was very cool!), and of course a few sea lions. I’d love to see some sea otters some day too.


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