Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Where are K and L pods?

Satellite tags help us explore winter habitat of endangered orcas.

Scientists have long wondered where Southern Resident killer whales go in the winter, and what they eat when they leave Puget Sound. Since December 29, 2012, NWFSC scientists and their collaborators have been tracking K25, an adult male with a satellite-linked tag on its dorsal fin.

NWFSC’s marine mammal team is currently using this location information as a key part of a research cruise on board the NOAA ship Bell M Shimada. This winter cruise will help track the Southern Resident killer whales' winter migration and the extent of their range offshore, as well as help identify habitat features and the specific prey the whales eat in coastal waters.

On Saturday March 2, scientists used satellite location information to catch up with K25, who was accompanied by the rest of K and L pods, off the southern Oregon coast near Cape Blanco. A second satellite tag similar to that used on K25 has also been deployed on L88, a 20-year old male.

In addition to collecting valuable information on the coastal distribution and behavior of the whales, the researchers have collected multiple fecal and prey fragment samples that are essential for understanding the whales' coastal diet

Collecting information on the whales' movements, coastal habitat use, and diet is a high priority element of the recovery plan, and was also among the recent recommendations made by an independent science panel looking into the effects of salmon fisheries on the Southern Resident killer whales. Southern Resident killer whales are federally-protected under the Endangered Species Act, with an estimated 86 individuals comprising the population.

The duration of the cruise, originally scheduled for 21 days, has been cut in half to 10 days due to the recent federal budget sequester.

View NWFSC’s maps and video that track the coastal movements of K25, the adult male orca tagged on December 29, 2012.

 On 2 March staff from the NWFSC, Cascadia Research Collective, and Biowaves aboard the NOAA vessel Bell M. Shimada were able to intercepted K pod off Cape Blanco using location data from its satellite-linked tag.  Researchers collected scale, fecal and biopsy samples.