Hi, kids! Welcome to Kid’s Cove, where you can learn about the marine mammals you might see on The Whale Trail! In this section you’ll learn more about southern resident orcas—three pods or families of fish-eating orcas who live in the Pacific Northwest. These well-known whales are endangered, and could go extinct, or disappear completely, in fewer than 100 years. Learn more about why they are endangered, and what you can do to help, by watching the videos below. Test your knowledge at the end!

Saving the Southern Residents: What kids can do

Step 1: Watch Our Videos

Watch them by clicking the images below, or scroll on to discover more about us at your own speed.

Meet Tsuchi and Tofino
Meet the Southern Residents
Not Enough Food
Toxins in Food
Noise and Disturbance

Step 2: Learn More

In this section you’ll learn more about the southern resident orcas—J, K and L pods. These orcas are endangered, and could go extinct, or disappear forever, in less than 100 years. We can’t let that happen! Learn why the orcas are endangered and what you can do to help.

Meet the Southern Residents: Orca facts

The southern resident orcas are three families—or pods—of orcas, called J, K, and L pod, who live around the southern end of Vancouver Island. They travel as far south as Monterey California, and as far north as mid-Vancouver Island. The area where they live is called their range. Click here to learn more about the southern resident orcas.

Orca photos: Credit Mark Sears, Permit 21348

The pods are matriarchal—which means they are organized around the mothers. Sons and daughters stay with their mother, who stays with her mother, who stays with her mother. The large families live and travel together their entire lives.

Orcas are the top predator in the sea, which means nothing hunts an orca! What the orcas eat, and how they hunt, is cultural—taught to them by their families. Some orcas hunt marine mammals like seals, or porpoises, or even other whales. Other orcas eat fish, like sharks or cod or salmon.

What do orcas eat?

Southern Resident orcas are fish-eaters. They eat many kids of fish, but they like salmon best of all—Chinook salmon especially.

💡Did you know?
Resident orcas share their fish with each other. A mother shares food with her calves, until her daughter has calves of her own. Older sons share their food with their mothers!

How many Southern Resident orcas are there?

Today there are 73 orcas in the southern resident population:  25 whales in J pod, 16 whales in K pod, and 32 whales in L pod (Center for Whale Research 2022). The population has been growing smaller since 1996, and is endangered in both the US and Canada.

Data from the 2019 Final Report for Governor Inslee’s Southern Resident Orca Recovery Task Force.

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How do orcas hunt and find their food?

Orcas are acoustic animals. They use echolocation to find and catch their prey (read more about echolocation here), and specific calls to communicate with each other.

💡Did you know?
Each pod has a unique call! Experts can tell which pod a whale belongs to just by listening to its calls. In fact, you can listen to them through the underwater microphones at Orca Sound!

Click on the picture of a hydrophone to listen to orcas under the sea!

Why are they endangered?

There are three main reasons the Southern Residents are in trouble: not enough salmon, too many toxins, or poisons, and too much noise and disturbance from boats. These make each other worse. Toxins are stored in orcas’ blubber and mother’s milk. When the orcas are stressed or hungry, the poisons are released into their bloodstream and make it easier for them to get sick. Noise and disturbance from boats make it harder for the to find food, which makes them stressed and hungry. To save J, K and L pods we need to increase salmon, reduce toxins, and quiet the sea—not one of those things, but all.

These threats are inter-related, meaning they all affect each other.

Orcas love salmon and they need a lot of it! The fish they eat contains toxins, or poisons. These poisons are stored in the orcas’ blubber and other fat cells.

  • When there is not enough food, the orcas get stressed and hungry.
  • When they get stressed and hungry, toxins are released from their blubber into their bodies, which makes them more likely to get sick.
  • Noise and stress from boats makes it hard for them to find food, which makes them stressed and hungry!

Learn more about each threats below, and what we can do to help.

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What’s the problem?

Resident orcas are fish-eaters, and like salmon best of all. A healthy adult orca needs up to 30 salmon each day! To feed all the whales in the J, K and L pod, the orcas need 1,400 salmon each day. But, there are far fewer salmon today. The fish are smaller than in the past, so the orcas have to eat more of them. Why are there fewer salmon? Habitats, hatcheries, hydropower and harvest – the 4 Hs – all play a role.


Salmon begin their lives in rivers and streams, where they hatch from eggs. When the young salmon—or smolts—are big enough they leave their streams and head towards the sea. Depending on the species, they may spend 2, 3, or even 5 years in the ocean. After spending most of their lives at sea, adult salmon return to the creeks or streams where they were born, where they spawn and then die.

Salmon need shelter, food, and clean water at every stage of their lives—from the streams where they are born, through their journey to the ocean, and back again.

💡Did you know?
Only 12 out of 1,000 eggs survive to become a smolt! Less than 50% of smolts survive the journey to the ocean. Chinook salmon spend their whole first year in the streams where they were born, and then 3 to 4 years in the ocean.

Salmon habitats can be lost or changed by human activities including water withdrawal, development, and pollution. Access to streams maybe blocked by culverts.


Hatcheries are facilities where salmon are hatched and raised until they are released for the journey to the sea. Hatcheries add to the number of fish that are available for humans (and orcas!) to catch, and eat. Hatchery production must be managed so that hatchery-born fish don’t compete with wild salmon for habitat and food.


Hydropower is the energy that comes from water when a river has been dammed. Hydropower provides electricity to millions of people throughout the west. However, dams block passage for salmon that are trying to find their way upstream. Fish ladders can help salmon get back to their home rivers and streams. In some cases, the best solution for the salmon is to remove the dams all together.

💡Did you know?
In 2010, two dams were removed on the Elwah River in Washington State. Less than a year after the dams were removed, salmon began finding their way upstream!


Salmon are the preferred catch for many kinds of fishers, from small sports fishers to large industrial trawlers. The amount of fish they are allowed to catch is set by international treaties and agreements, so that they are not overfished.

What kids can do

Did you know you can help salmon when you shop for groceries? When you buy fresh foods that have the Salmon Safe picture on them, it means you are supporting farmers to keep riverbeds near their farms clean for salmon to grow in. Hunt for these foods, so orcas can hunt for salmon!

Cleaning up salmon habitats is another great way to help them thrive. You can join a beach or stream clean up, or plan your own with friends! Discover more about beach clean ups here.



What’s the problem?

What’s bad for salmon is bad for orcas too. Did you know many chemicals that we use here on land end up in the water? Bug repellant, cleaning sprays, painting supplies, and littered plastics make their way downhill into the sea.

Why it matters

These toxic chemicals get into the salmon, and are eaten by the orcas. The toxins are then stored in the orcas’ blubber (fat) and even mothers’ milk, and released into their bodies when the orcas become stressed or hungry. The orcas are more likely to get sick when the toxins are released.

What kids can do

You can improve salmon habitat from your own home! Try mixing a fish-friendly household cleaning solution with your favorite grownup. You can find a lot of great mixes here or over here.

Using fewer plastics also helps keep toxins away. When you’re at the store, choose to buy things that use paper packaging.

Picking up plastic litter is another great thing you can do. If you have a regular route that you walk most days (like to or from a bus stop), why not take a bag or bucket and pick up trash on the way? Your salmon and orca friends will thank you!

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What’s the problem?

Orcas are acoustic animals who used echolocation to find and hunt their prey. They use other kinds of calls to communicate with each other. Noise and disturbance from boats makes it harder for them to echolocate and hear each other. Noise comes from many sources in the sea: large boats like cargo ships, tankers and ferries, smaller boats like sailboats, yachts and whale-watching vessels.

  • Have you ever played the game Marco Polo, where you take turns calling and listening to figure out where your friends are? Imagine playing that at a noisy playground, with lots of other voices in the mix. Wouldn’t that be tricky? Well, orcas use a tactic like this called “echolocation” to find their prey. They make quick “clicks” that send sound waves through the water, bouncing back off things they hit. This is how they “see” their prey. if other sounds drown out their clicks, they’re left with nothing to eat!

Canoes, kayaks and paddle boards can also be a problem, by disturbing the orcas and changing their behaviors.

What kids can do

To better understand how noise and disturbance affect the orcas, try playing Marco Polo with a playmate! First, try the normal way, then turn on some music or a something noisy like a vacuum cleaner (or a little brother or sister). How do you feel playing with the extra noise?

One thing kids can do to help reduce noise pollution is to write letters to the grown-ups who make laws about boats. Let them know that you care about the orcas’ survival and ask them to think of their lives when making rules that help us share the water. Here is where you can address them.

Watch southern residents from shore instead of from a boat! Follow The Whale Trail to find places where you might see southern residents. Check out locations on this map.


Thank you for watching our videos and reading this far! We hope you learned a little bit more about southern residents and how to help them. If you have questions or ideas, please get in touch with us using the contact forms below. And if you want to test your knowledge, try the quiz!

The southern residents are in trouble and need our help. It’s not too late to save them but it might be soon. Together, we can make a difference for J, K and L pods! Let’s give Tofino, Tsuchi and all the whales a chance to survive, and thrive.

Data from the 2019 Final Report for Governor Inslee’s Southern Resident Orca Recovery Task Force.

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