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Types of Orcas in British Columbia
May 9, 2023

Types of Orcas in British Columbia

Prince of Whales

Transient and Resident Killer Whales

The Pacific North West is home to some of the most diverse wildlife in the world; including, several types of Killer Whales (Orcas) in British Columbia. As we explore the stunning waters of British Columbia on our whale watching tours, we have the opportunity to witness two distinct ecotypes of killer whales: Transient and Resident orcas. Let’s dive deeper and discover the fascinating differences between these magnificent creatures!

Transient Killer Whales

Also known as Bigg’s Orcas, the Transient killer whales were named after Michael Andrew Bigg, a Canadian marine biologist who studied killer whales until 1990. These apex predators are known for their ferocious hunting tactics and prey on a variety of marine mammals, including seals, porpoises, and even other whales. Their diet and hunting techniques contribute to their infamous name as “killer” whales.

Spanning from California to Alaska, Transient Orcas are significantly larger than their Resident counterparts, measuring up to 8 meters in length. They tend to live and hunt in smaller groups, or “pods”, of 2-6 members. Some Transient Orcas prefer to live their lives in solitude, without the company of a pod. Due to their small group size and stealthy approach to prey, Transient Orcas have developed fewer unique calls compared to the Resident Orcas.

Resident Killer Whales

The Resident killer whales, divided into Northern and Southern Residents, are a unique ecotype of orca that exclusively feeds on fish, with Pacific Salmon being their favourite prey. Chinook (spring or King) Salmon, which is the largest of the seven species of Pacific Salmon, makes up about 80% of their diet. Sadly, the Southern Residents are endangered, largely due to insufficient food sources, bioaccumulation of toxins in the waters, noise pollution, and past capture attempts for captivity. Because of this, no whale watching operator views Southern Resident Killer Whales.

While the Northern Residents are more commonly found from the North of Campbell River to Alaska, the Southern population’s territory extends from Vancouver Island to California. Unlike Transient Orcas, the Resident orcas live in larger social groups that provide a wealth of information and data, categorized into three primary clans for Northern Residents (A, G, and R) and three pods for Southern Residents (J, K, and L). Their innate social and communicative nature is evident in their vocalizations, which coordinate hunting, migration, and other group activities.

We are fortunate to have both Transient and Resident Orcas in our waters, and we take pride in educating our guests on board and the local community about these incredible creatures. By sharing our passion and knowledge about these cetaceans, we hope to contribute to their protection and preservation for generations to come.

Come join us on a whale watching tour, and experience the awe-inspiring beauty of these majestic creatures!

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