Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Southern Resident Killer Whale U.S. Whale Watching Industry Social Survey

Welcome to the NWFSC Southern Resident Killer Whale Watching Industry social study web site.

Orca whales, also known as killer whales (Orcinus orca), are cultural icons for the human residents of the Pacific Northwest’s Puget Sound. The importance of killer whales is clearly evident for both the tribal and non-tribal cultures of the area. An example of the importance of this animal is expressed in artwork throughout the region. Today, Orca whale images adorn magazine covers, are found on SeaTac International Airport welcome signs, and are used in Pacific Northwest promotional materials. Recently, Governor Gregoire named the Orca Whale as Washington State’s official state Marine Mammal. Every summer tourists and local residents have the opportunity to go whale watching from multiple ports with hopes to view these animals.

In 2003, the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) were officially listed as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). This listing resulted in the development of a proposed conservation plan which outlines the steps to be taken to restore the population to full health. In 2005, the SRKW were selected for additional protection through an endangered species listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Due to this listing there are many biological and ecological studies being conducted by both Canadian and U.S. researchers on the whales to try to determine why the population is declining. To learn more about these studies visit the NWFSC Conservation Biology’s Marine Mammal Program or the The next link/button will exit from NWFSC web site Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Canada)

While biological research on the SRKW itself is progressing, there is little information on the connection of these animals with humans. As social scientists, we study the human dimension of ecosystems, working to better understand people and their relationship to marine resources. In this instance, we are interested in better understanding the relationship of people to the SRKW. Specifically, we have identified a unique relationship between the whale watching industry of the Greater Puget Sound and the SRKW. We aim to more clearly understand this connection. Like fishermen who depend on healthy fish stocks, this industry depends on a healthy and resilient population of Southern Resident Killer Whales. Little is known about the whale watching industry in the Greater Puget Sound region. Some of questions we would like to be able to answer that would contribute to our understanding of the industry are:

In order to answer these questions, as a major component of this study we have developed a Survey to be completed by industry members. There is no better way to understand the industry than by directly asking those involved. By participating in this survey, industry members will contribute to an understanding and description of this industry. This will contribute to a more complete understanding the ecosystem surrounding the SRKW which includes humans and their activities.

Our goals for this study:

Components of the Study:

Together, the following activities contribute to our understanding of the industry:

Together all this components will help us reach our goals.


Study results are found in The U.S. Whale Watching Industry of the Greater Puget Sound: A Description and Baseline Analysis.

For more information on this study or the NWFSC Socioeconomic Program please contact us at or phone us at the numbers below:

More helpful information can be found on our links page.

Principle Investigator:
Suzanne Russell
NWFSC Social Scientist
(206) 860-3274

Social Science Researcher:
Morgan Schneidler
Frank Orth and Associates Contractor
(206) 302-2442

Lime Kiln State Park whale watching informationLime Kiln State Park whale watching information
Naturalist Natalie Herner aboard the Squito shares SRKW information with touristsNaturalist Natalie Herner aboard the Squito shares SRKW information with tourists