Changes in the Occurrence and Behavior of Mammal-eating Killer Whales in Southern British Columbia and Washington State, 1987–2010

The primary prey species of mammal-eating killer whales in the Salish Sea, the inland waters of southern British Columbia and Washington state, have experienced dramatic increases in population abundances in the last 25 years. It is possible that changes in prey abundance over time have resulted in changes in predator spatial use, occurrence and group size. Focused studies of mammal-eating killer whale behavior in the area were undertaken from 1987–1993, and an extensive record of sightings with confirmed identifications was available from 2004–2010. Changes in occurrence across years, months, and subareas of the Salish Sea were examined as well as changes in group size and in the identity of specific matrilines using the area. Occurrence of mammal-eating whales increased significantly from 2004–2010 with different seasonal peaks compared to 1987–1993. Different matrilines occurred in different seasons, time periods, and subareas. Group size was larger in 2004–2010 than in 1987–1993. The whales may be increasing use of the area due to increasing prey abundance or an overall increase in the whale population size. Changes in seasonal patterns of occurrence and the increase in group size between the two periods could be due to increased prey diversity.


Houghton, J., R.W. Baird, C.K. Emmons, and M.B.Hanson. 2015. Changes in the Occurrence and Behavior of Mammal-Eating Killer Whales in Southern British Columbia and Washington State, 1987-2010. Northwest Science 89(2): 154-169. doi: 10.3955/046.089.0207

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