Photo: April Bencze

Orca and salmon

Pacific salmon connect ecosystems, bringing energy and nutrients from the ocean up streams and to spawning grounds. They feed human communities, whales, bears and eagles and fertilize magnificent coastal and inland forests. Pacific salmon are in trouble and face multiple threats, including habitat destruction and unsustainable fishing practices, which are compounded by climate change. Salmon are sensitive to higher temperatures, so even small increases in ocean and river temperatures can harm or kill them. Many salmon populations are declining.

The fate of southern resident killer whales, or orcas, hangs in the balance. The 76 southern resident killer whales are Canada’s most endangered marine mammal. Immediate actions are needed to protect chinook salmon, the whales’ primary prey, set up refuges, reduce acoustic noise and address pollution. Action is needed on all fronts to help this whale population survive. A projected seven-fold increase in tanker traffic from the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and ocean warming from climate change make the situation dire.

The interdependence between orcas and salmon illustrates the importance of healthy ocean ecosystems. If we don’t recover declining chinook salmon, one of our most iconic whale populations likely won’t survive.

Where we are now

We protect wild Pacific salmon by advocating that the government follow its Wild Salmon Policy and recommendations from the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River. We partner with academics, government decision-makers and other non-profits to make our policy recommendations stronger. Our scientists sit on committees that advise government on how best to reform Canada’s Fisheries Act to protect wild fish and their habitats.

We limit impacts from open-net-pen fish farms to wild salmon by working with committees and the aquaculture industry to improve health monitoring, disease reporting and data transparency for fish farms. Our supporters add their voices through consultation and letters to officials to create pressure for change.

The Species at Risk Act could protect southern resident killer whales and save them from a local extinction, but only if the action plan for recovery is implemented. Our scientists brief government agencies on the best ways to recover this whale population. We amplify our voice by encouraging our supporters to share their ideas during public consultations and to inform elected officials about their concerns.

All about salmon

01

7 million years

Large saber-tooth salmon fossils indicate that salmon have been in Pacific waters for at least seven million years.

02

3,000 kilometres

Salmon migrations can stretch up to 3,000 kilometres.

03

11 of 15

11 of 15 south coast chinook populations are highly depleted and require immediate conservation actions.

Orca appreciation

Watch this wonderful moment — captured on film by Scott Wallace, Senior Research Scientist — of a family orca encounter.

All about orcas

01

150

A large male orca weighs nearly as much as two Ford 150 pickup trucks.

02

Every hour

One large ship transits the Salish Sea, on average, every hour of every day of every year.

03

1400

The southern resident killer whale pod requires about 1,400 chinook salmon every day.

01 of 03
  • A pod of orcas with a lighthouse on a rock in the background

    A pod of orcas. Photo: Center for Whale Research

  • An orca's tail lifted out of the ocean with a tanker on the horizon

    Tanker traffic is one issue facing orca populations. Photo: Center for Whale Research

  • Underwater picture of a shoal of pink salmon. Photo: April Bencze

    Pink salmon. Photo credit: April Bencze