ORCA

CONSERVATION STATUS:

Data Deficient

WILD POPULATION:

Unknown

POPULATION TREND:

Unknown (suspected to be decreasing)

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are the largest member of the dolphin family. They are found in all oceans but are more common in cold waters, especially in food-rich areas.

 

There are two species of orca: residents, which keep to one area and transients, which roam across vast areas.

Orcas are one of the top predators in the ocean. This means they play a vital role in the natural world, maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

There is not enough research of the overall population of orcas to be sure as to their conservation status. However, it is suspected that their numbers are in decline, and some local populations are considered endangered, such as Southern Resident orcas. Orcas face many threats from human activity, which we've listed below.

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THREATS

Declining food stock (due to overfishing).

Tourism (capture for marine parks and disturbances from whale watching).

Pollution (plastic and PCBs).

Wildlife trade (whaling).

Bycatch (unintentionally caught in fishing nets).

Habitat loss.

Habitat disturbance (noise and conflicts with boats and ships as well as drilling).

Oil spills.

Disease.

Climate change.

To find out in more detail about the threats they face, go the IUCN's page here.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

Below, we've come up with ways in which we can all help to create a better future for wild orcas:

The first and most obvious is to donate to conservation efforts. This is the best thing you can do to help secure a future for orcas. There are plenty of organisations carrying out essential work to unravel the problems which orcas face. Scroll down to the bottom of this page to find the organisations which we recommend.

Plastic pollution poses a threat to orcas, with dead orcas having been found with plastic in their stomachs. Reducing plastic use is a great way to help prevent this happening. Have a look at our plastic page to find tips on how to do so.

As well as reducing plastic consumption, another great way to help prevent the effects of plastic on wildlife is to pick up litter. Whether it's picking up one item you see on your walk or helping in an organised litter pick, everything makes a difference in protecting wildlife. Have a look at our cleanups page to find out more.

Signing petitions is another great way to bring about positive change. Scroll down to the next section to find online petitions, which we recommend signing to help protect orcas.

Climate change could have an impact on certain orca populations in years to come. The loss of sea ice will affect many prey species of the orca and so in turn could cause a decline in orca numbers. A brilliant way to help is to take action to help prevent climate change. Have a look at our page here if you wish to find out individual ways of how to do so.

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TOP TIP: There is much controversy around keeping orcas in captivity and many marine parks are now phasing out doing so. This is because captive tanks are extremely different to their natural environment. In the wild, orcas could travel up to 160km per day and they live in large family groups. Evidence shows that in the absence of these factors in captivity, orcas face stressful lives, as they are highly intelligent animals. Our advice would be to avoid marine parks that do still keep whales, dolphins and porpoises and to encourage others to do the same.

If you want to know more about the controversy of keeping orcas in captivity, we recommend watching the award-winning documentaries, Black Fish and Long Gone Wild.

If you do have a desire to see orcas in real-life, we definitely encourage trying to see them in the wild instead of captivity. Although seeing them in the wild is by far a much better option for the wellbeing of orcas, it's worth bearing in mind that whale-watching trips can still have a negative impact on wild orcas. Boats can disrupt orcas' hunting, resting and social interactions. If you do want to take part in whale watching, we recommend choosing a company who are mindful of the effects boats can have and are trying to minimise these impacts. Find out more in the 'Ecotourism' section further down the page.

UK & USA: Volunteering is a brilliant way to contribute to orca conservation. By donating some of your time, skill and passion, you could help spread the word about orcas and create a brighter future for these incredible creatures. Whale and Dolphin Conservation have volunteering opportunities in the UK as well as intern programs available in Scotland and the US. Orca Conservancy have volunteer opportunities available in the US.

As mentioned, the noise of vehicles in the water can cause much disruption to orcas. If we can reduce the amount of ships on the water, this could help to avoid these issues. One way of doing this is shopping locally. Trying to opt for products produced in the country you live, or neighbouring territory which isn't divided by water, is a great way to help reduce the amount of ships crossing the ocean. It could be as simple as opting for fruit and vegetables that are grown in the country you live.

One of the best ways to help orcas is to spread the word about this page, and what you've learnt about the challenges they face. Awareness is the first step towards solving any problem! 

SHOP FOR CONSERVATION

Another way to help is to shop for products which support orca conservation:

 

UK: Our founder, Chad Killoran, has a website selling prints of his artwork. If you're interested you could buy a print of his orca portrait, shown below, and a percentage of the profit goes towards Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

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UK: Whale and Dolphin Conservation's online shop sells t-shirts, jumpers, hoodies and tote bags.

AUSTRALIA: Project Orcas's online shop sells mugs, tote bags, reusable cups and tea infusers.

USA: Empty the Tanks's online shop sells t-shirts and tote bags.

 

If you shop with Amazon then you could use AmazonSmile. It's the same as Amazon only when you shop they donate a percentage of the profit to a charity you choose, at no extra cost to you! If you're based in the United Kingdom, you could go to the UK site and select Whale and Dolphin ConservationOrca Rescues Foundation or Organisation Cetacea as your chosen charity. If you're based in the US, you could go to the US site and choose Wild Orca, Orca Conservancy, Orca Behaviour Institute, Orca Network or Dolphin Foundation as your chosen charity.

PETITIONS

Signing the following petitions is a great way to bring about positive change for orcas:

Southern Resident Killer Whale Chinook Salmon Initiative's petition is appealing to US politicians to breach the lower Snake River dams in order to increase the salmon food supply of the Southern Resident orca.

Dolphin Project's petition is calling upon the Russian government to ban the wild capture of orcas.

Patagonia's petition is urging NOAA and WDFW to invest in a better solution to the loss of wild salmon and Southern Resident orcas.

Kendra Nelson's petition is calling on the US navy to withdraw its application to take marine mammals, including the endangered Southern Resident orca, from the Pacific Northwest for military training purposes.

Dolphin Project's petition is appealing to US members of congress to end all imports and exports of dolphins and whales across US borders.

Dolphin Project's petition is urging US members of congress to make it illegal to capture dolphins and whales in US territorial waters.

Global Deal for Nature's petition is appealing to world leaders to protect 50% of our lands and oceans.

ECOTOURISM

USA: Whale SENSE is an accreditation scheme to help you choose whale-watching tours that follow practices that have little to no impact on the animals they are viewing. They have a list of responsible whale watching companies on their website in the Atlantic and Alaska regions. If you want to see wild orcas, we'd really recommend using one of these companies in order to create minimal disruption to these creatures, whilst having a great experience.

CANADA: Mackay Whale Watching is a small family run company in British Columbia with a focus on conservation.

If you know of any more companies who organise tourism experiences with wild orcas, who strive for minimal impact on orcas' day to day lives, then please get in contact to let us know.

CONSERVATION ORGANISATIONS

The following organisations are carrying out essential work to protect orcas:

OrcaLab is dedicated to conserving the endangered population of resident orcas off the coast of British Columbia, Canada.

Project Orca's mission is to protect the marine environment and promote conservation of orcas in Australian waters.

Wild Orca's intention is to save endangered Southern Resident orcas and the ecosystem they depend on.

Norwegian Orca Survey is dedicated to study Norwegian orcas and promote their conservation.

Orca Conservancy is committed to protecting the endangered Southern Resident orca population.

The Center for Whale Research is dedicated to the study and conservation of the Southern Resident orca population in the Pacific Northwest.

ORCA works to protect whales, dolphins & porpoises in and around UK and European waters.

Empty The Tanks is an organisation focused on ending dolphin and whale captivity, whilst also promoting the health of our oceans.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation is dedicated to the conservation and protection of whales and dolphins around the world.

If you know of any more ways in which we can create a better future for orcas, then please get in contact with your suggestions!