On February 16, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission held its final hearing to determine if Southern Resident Orcas warrant listing as “endangered” under the Oregon Endangered Species Act. After impassioned testimonies from students, community members, scientists, and other nonprofits, the petition to list the whales was successfully passed.

Killer whales, also known as orcas, are one of the most iconic and popular marine mammals; they also hold a crucial position as apex predators within marine ecosystems, playing a vital role in maintaining ecological balance. Researchers have categorized various ecotypes of orcas based on genetic, behavioral, and geographic differences observed over time. Among these, the Southern Resident orcas emerge as a unique and endangered group. Not only are they the most urbanized population of orcas worldwide, but they also face critical endangerment. These orcas exhibit distinct genetic traits, cultural behaviors, habitat preferences, and communication patterns, underscoring the significance of their conservation efforts.

The Southern Resident orcas are commonly thought of as “Puget Sound orcas” due to their frequent presence in the Salish Sea and along the Washington and British Columbia coastlines for a significant portion of the year. However, their ties to Oregon run deep. Despite many Oregonians being unaware, these magnificent creatures also rely on Oregon waters, depending on salmon from our rivers, particularly during the winter months when access to food becomes vital for their health and survival. These orcas are not solely confined to Puget Sound; they are Oregon’s orcas, too. Therefore, we must share in the responsibility of safeguarding their existence.

In 2021 NOAA updated the critical habitat for SRKW to include the Oregon coast.