Southern Resident killer whale outer coast habitat use
Project Lead: Santiago Dominguez
Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW) are a NOAA Fisheries Species in the Spotlight, with only 73 individuals remaining in this ESA-listed Endangered population. The SRKW distribution is centered on the Salish Sea, where they are found most frequently in summer months feeding on returning Chinook salmon, and extends along the outer coast of Washington, Oregon, California and British Columbia, which is believed to be their primary winter range. As key Chinook salmon stocks have declined in recent years, SRKW have been spending less time in the Salish Sea, creating major knowledge gaps about their changing distribution, key prey stocks, and overlap with human impacts such as vessel traffic. In close partnership with the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Ocean Ecology Team, we are studying the distribution of SRKW on the outer coast of Washington State to characterize their distribution and overlap with Chinook salmon and vessel traffic. This work employs a moored array of acoustic receivers that detect tags implanted in Chinook salmon from 16 genetically distinct stocks to evaluate Chinook movements and distribution; and passive acoustic listening stations that record vocalizing marine mammals as well as ambient and anthropogenic (vessel) noise. We plan to identify SRKW activity hotspots, areas of overlap with anthropogenic impacts, and identify potential high priority Chinook prey stocks based on the extent of overlap.