While Northern Resident killer whales are similar in social structure and biology to Southern Resident killer whales, they are genetically distinct separate populations. While their ranges overlap, they are rarely observed together. The Northern Resident population is much larger than the Southern, composed of 34 matrilines and more than 200 individuals.
Northern Resident orcas are similar in appearance to other orcas and can be identified by unique saddle patches and dorsal fins. All Northern Residents are salmon eaters. Like the southern resident orcas, they strongly prefer Chinook salmon over other species, and will hunt it selectively.
Resident orcas forage together and practice prey-sharing; sharing what they catch with other pod members.
Northern Resident orcas live in tightly bound family units called pods, and stay with their mothers and siblings for their entire lives. Generations stay together in matrilines, organized around the older females.
Acoustics. Northern Residents are organized into three acoustic clans: A, G, and R. Clans consist of multiple matrilines that share a distinct set of calls. Each matriline further shares a set of calls. By listening to the calls, trained researchers can identify which pods are in the area and can even identify specific members of a pod.
Rubbing Beaches. Northern residents routinely visit the rubbing beaches of Robson Bight (Michael Bigg Ecological Reserve) during the summer. Pod by pod, the whales enter the shallow waters of the Bight, and roll around or “rub” on the smooth stones there. Scientists believe these areas and behaviors are critical to Northern Resident social structure.
Northern Resident orcas are currently listed as Threatened in Canada. Threats include lack of prey, toxin accumulations, and vessel impacts, including the threat of oil spills.
Northern Residents range from Southeast Alaska to northern Vancouver Island and in the inlets of B.Cs’s central and north coasts.
- The Whale Trail