Sandy Buckley
Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs)

Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs)

The Southern Resident killer whale is an icon of the Pacific Northwest but the population is struggling, numbering only 75 whales. The San Juan Islands have long been considered the epicenter of the whales’ summer core critical habitat and the local community has grown increasingly concerned about the health and well-being of the whales and the role that humans play in ensuring their survival.

The San Juan MRC has long been involved with efforts to conserve and protect the Southern Residents that call the inland waters around San Juan County home during the spring, summer and fall. The page details some of our current efforts. 

Photo: MERS

The Whale Warning Flag

The historical core habitat of the endangered Southern Resident killer whale is located in the heart of the Salish Sea in San Juan County.

The Whale Warning flag is used by boaters and land stations to alert others that whales are in the vicinity. It is a cue (like a diver-down flag) that boaters must slow down, be prepared to change course and Be Whale Wise.

Check out what we learned during our pilot study conducted over 2018 and 2019. 

Download the Report

Know The Zone!

In 2018 the MRC extended the Voluntary No-Go Zone on the west side of San Juan Island down to Cattle Point. This Voluntary No-Go Zone is part of the Marine Stewardship Area.

This Voluntary No-Go Zone encompasses historically sensitive foraging and resting areas for the endangered Southern Resident killer whale. 

The zone extends 1/4 mile offshore from Mitchel Point to Cattle Point, with a 1/2 mile buffer around Lime Kiln Point State Park. 

The zone is in place throughout the year for all boats, at all times, and is recognized by the Pacific Whale Watch Association and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

During 2018, kayaks launching from the San Juan County Park within the Voluntary No-Go Zone operate under a special use permit issued by the County Park. This requires that kayaks participate in the Kayak Education and Leadership Program (K.E.L.P). This program was developed in 2010 by County Parks, The Whale Museum, and the kayak industry.

To learn more about the Marine Stewardship area see:

Community Workshop

In December 2018 we held our second SRKW community workshop in Friday Harbor. 

The workshop was attended by 62 individuals. The purpose of the workshop was to update and engage community members in meaningful dialogue around the efforts to support SRKW recovery underway since the first community workshop held in October 2017. Presentations and discussions focused on state, local, and individual efforts.

Download Final Report

Links to the 2017 workshop report and survey results are below:

2017 workshop report

2017 survey results

Exploring Protection Priorities for Southern Resident Killer Whale Foraging Areas Along the Westside of San Juan Island

The waters off the west coast of San Juan Island are an important foraging area for the Southern Resident killer whales. But the whales are susceptible to disturbance from noise and the presence of vessels. Protecting priority feeding areas could help reduce the impact of vessels and allow the whales to find and capture their already scarce prey.

This project engaged both expert scientists and the community to help define defensible refuge area(s) for the whales. The west coast of San Juan Island is one of the primary migratory corridors for returning Fraser River Chinook, critical to the summer/fall diet of the Southern Residents. The area is also important salmon fishing grounds for Coast Salish Tribes, commercial and recreational fishing. The San Juan Islands are usual and accustomed fishing and hunting areas for Coast Salish Tribes.

Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs)