Orca (Killer Whale)
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Orcinus orca
STATUS: Endangered (Puget Sound population)
HABITAT: Coastal waters and open ocean
LIFE HISTORY: Highly social; individuals form pods that average between 5 and 30 whales. Each pod is led by a female and has its own distinct set of calls.
THREATS: Pollution, overfishing, general degradation of marine habitat
RANGE: Worldwide; unique resident populations in areas such as Puget Sound
CURRENT POPULATION: Global population uncertain -- estimated minimum 50,000; 84 in Puget Sound
Perhaps the best-recognized "whale" in the world, the killer whale, or orca, is actually a member of the dolphin family. Orcas live in matriarchal societies and hunt in packs, chasing down everything from sharks to whales.
The year-round orca population in Puget Sound, off the coast of Washington State, also known to scientist as the "J-pod," has dropped 20 percent since 1996, and scientists believe that human activities such as pollution, overfishing, oil spills and undersea noise are the likely cause. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that if current trends continue, this southern resident orca population will be extinct within 100 years and possibly as soon as 30 years.
In 2002, NRDC supported the listing of this population as a "depleted stock" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and urged the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect the group under the Endangered Species Act. In December 2005, the federal government formally listed the Puget Sound orca as an endangered species.
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Photos: Olympic Park © Jeffrey Logan; chinook salmon © Roger Peters, USFWS; marbled murrelet © Gus Van Vliet, USFWS; orca © NOAA/Dept. of Commerce
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