• Southern Resident Killer Whales and West Coast Chinook Salmon

    Endangered Southern Resident killer whales prey primarily on Chinook salmon that historically returned in great numbers to rivers up and down the West Coast. NOAA Fisheries analyzed Chinook salmon stocks based on their estimated importance to the whales and found that the most crucial stocks are those returning to the Fraser River in British Columbia, other rivers draining into Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, and the Columbia, Snake, Klamath, and Sacramento rivers. Tracking studies show that some of the whales visit the mouths of these West Coast rivers in search of their preferred Chinook salmon prey, but all of the rivers help support the whales over the course of each year.

    Recent declines underscore the urgency of addressing the threats facing the Southern Residents:
    • reduced prey (Chinook salmon) in some areas,
    • vessel traffic and noise,
    • toxic contaminants, and
    • health risks such as inbreeding.

    The number of juvenile salmon produced by West Coast rivers has increased since the 1970s, as have adult returns to the Columbia and Snake rivers. Puget Sound rivers have not seen the same increases but remain very important because Southern Residents can access them throughout much of the year. This makes salmon stocks around the Salish Sea and Puget Sound a primary target for recovery as described in NOAA Fisheries’ Puget Sound Chinook Salmon Recovery Plan.

    For more information >>

    Killer Whales
    Two killer whales
  • Killer whale jumping