Southern resident killer whales, known as J, K, and L pods, consist of 89 individuals that spend summer months around the San Juan Islands of Washington State. These extended whale families come together to mate and feed on spawning salmon. During winter months, K and L pods are known to travel far offshore their summer territory and as far south as Monterey Bay, CA.
Our researchers would like to understand whale habitat use and behavior during their winter California near shore visits as well as establish what other populations of killer whale frequent the coastlines. Researchers are also asking what types of human interactions killer whales are encountering; possibly in the form of commercial fishing, aquaculture, shipping or construction projects like offshore wind farms. Funding this project allows researchers to map the current and historic whereabouts of this incredible species in relation to human activity, thereby bringing a variety of real-time sighting updates and potential impacts whales encounter to interested conservation groups and the public.
In 2005, the pods were listed as Endangered under the USA Endangered Species Act. The Act requires the designation of “critical habitat." “Critical habitat” is defined as: specific areas occupied by the species at the time of listing; and specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species if determined essential for conservation. During the summer and fall months, this is easy enough to do, however when it comes to winter there are huge unknowns as to the pods' use of their southern range. Establishing their behavior and understanding their specific needs during this winter period is part of Naked Whale Research's endeavor to aide the science in the long-term recovery of this population.
By involving the public in scientific field research and promoting the understanding and action necessary to maintain a sustainable marine environment for the protection of this top marine predator, we are ultimately assessing the overall health and sustainability of human coastal populations who share similar environmental resources.
Money will directly fund website and software purchases, pay for required technical assistance, fund the production of sighting questionnaires and project promotion.
The product goal of this project is to have a user friendly database that interfaces with Google Earth where users can sort killer whale sightings by year, month, and pod (if known) in relation to biological, geological, and human consumption data. Created outputs can be in the form of a spreadsheet list, or map of digitized sightings. The long-term goal of this project will be the creation of a west coast open-forum public data set that can be utilized for possible management goals for the advancement of the critical habitat designation for J, K and L pods. As the dataset grows, it may be possible to identify the habitat needs of other killer whale population segments of “transient” or “offshore” type animals that are lesser known.
Founded in 2010 by killer whale researcher Jodi Smith, Naked Whale Research’s mission is to 'encourage individuals and marine researchers alike to actively take part in helping create public awareness concerning threats to the long-term survival of the Endangered Southern resident killer whales, known as J, K, and L pods that frequent waters off the coastal Northwest.' Ms. Smith spent 10 years studying killer whales in Washington State waters before obtaining her Master of Science degree in Conservation Biology through Massey University in New Zealand. Her work on killer whale vessel effects aided policy makers in the Endangered listing status of this population in 2005. Currently Ms. Smith contracts with offshore work vessels (such as seismic and dredge ships) to observe their marine mammal interactions and guide company complience to the various State and Federal regulations governing endangered or protected marine species. Through Naked Whale Research, Ms. Smith is opening a research center in Northern California this fall that will concentrate winter research efforts specifically on killer whales.
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