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Recovery Strategy for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whale


Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series

Recovery Strategy for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) in Canada

Killer Whale

Killer Whale

June 2007


About the Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)?

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada. SARA came into force in 2003 and one of its purposes is “to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.”

What is recovery?

In the context of species at risk conservation, recoveryis the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species is arrested or reversed, and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of the species’ persistence in the wild. A species will be considered recoveredwhen its long-term persistence in the wild has been secured.

What is a recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. It sets goals and objectives and identifies the main areas of activities to be undertaken. Detailed planning is done at the action plan stage.

Recovery strategy development is a commitment of all provinces and territories and of three federal agencies -- Environment Canada, Parks Canada Agency, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk.  Sections 37–46 of SARA outline both the required content and the process for developing recovery strategies published in this series.

Depending on the status of the species and when it was assessed, a recovery strategy has to be developed within one to two years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk.  Three to four years is allowed for those species that were automatically listed when SARA came into force.

What’s next?

In most cases, one or more action plans will be developed to define and guide implementation of the recovery strategy. Nevertheless, directions set in the recovery strategy are sufficient to begin involving communities, land users, and conservationists in recovery implementation. Cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.

The series

This series presents the recovery strategies prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as strategies are updated.

To learn more

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and recovery initiatives, please consult the SARA Public Registry and the web site of the Recovery Secretariat.

Recommended citation:

Resident Killer Whale Recovery Team. 2007. Recovery Strategy for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) in Canada [Proposed].  Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series, Fisheries & Oceans Canada, Ottawa, ix+ 80 pp.

Additional copies:

You can download additional copies from the SARA Public Registry (http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/ )

Cover illustration: Graeme Ellis, Fisheries & Oceans Canada

Également disponible en français sous le titre :

« Programme de rétablissement des épaulards résidents (Orcinus orca) du nord et du sud au Canada [Projet] »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Fisheries & Oceans, 2007. All rights reserved.

ISBN to come

Catalogue no. to come

Content (excluding the cover illustration) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.


This recovery strategy for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales has been prepared in cooperation with jurisdictions responsible for the species, as described in the Preface. Fisheries & Oceans Canada has reviewed and accepts this document as its recovery strategy for the northern and southern resident killer whale populations as required by the Species at Risk Act.

Success in the recovery of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this strategy and will not be achieved by Fisheries & Oceans Canada or any other jurisdiction alone. In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of Fisheries & Oceans invites all Canadians to join Fisheries & Oceans Canada in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the northern and southern resident killer whales and Canadian society as a whole. Fisheries & Oceans Canada will endeavour to support implementation of this strategy, given available resources and varying species at risk conservation priorities. The Minister will report on progress within five years.

This strategy will be complemented by one or more action plans that will provide details on specific recovery measures to be taken to support conservation of the species. The Minister will take steps to ensure that, to the extent possible, Canadians directly affected by these measures will be consulted.

Responsible Jurisdictions

The recovery strategy for northern and southern resident killer whales was developed by the Resident Killer Whale Recovery Team on behalf of the competent minister (the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada).

These populations occur off the coast of the province of British Columbia and within the proposed Gwaii Haanas and Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Areas.  The Province of British Columbia, Environment Canada and Parks Canada also cooperated in the development of this recovery strategy.  In addition, both populations are considered trans-boundary in United States waters.  The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations also participated in its preparation.


This document was prepared by the Resident Killer Whale Recovery Team see Appendix C for membership.


This Proposed Recovery Strategy for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales in Canada was produced through the collective efforts of the Recovery Team (see Appendix III), all of whom were generous in contributing their own time in meetings and in many revisions of the document.  Kathy Heise wrote the text, based on an extensive literature review and technical input from individual team members and from group discussions and edited many working versions of this document.  The team is grateful for the expert reviews provided by Dr. Volker Deecke of the University of British Columbia and Dr. Christope Guinet, Centre d’Etudes Bilogiques de Chize, France.  The cover photo was provided by Graeme Ellis.  Doug Sandilands (Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre) provided Figures 1-3.

Strategic Environmental Assessment Statement

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally-sound decision making.

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts on non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly in the strategy itself, but are summarized also below.

While this recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the northern and southern killer whales, several potentially adverse effects also were considered. Through the development of this strategy numerous factors that jeopardize or have potential to jeopardize the recovery of these populations were evaluated and are presented.  Principal among the anthropogenic factors or threats are environmental contamination, reductions in the availability or quality of prey, and both physical and acoustic disturbance.  In some cases these factors threaten the populations; in other cases they affect the designated critical habitat.  It was concluded that some threats can be mitigated through the use of existing legislation, policies and programs and, in fact, there are numerous examples of mitigation measures that are currently employed outlined herein.   However, in other cases the threat and/or the potential mitigation measure(s) require further research or evaluation before recommendations on specific actions or activities can be formulated.   The general type of research, evaluation and approaches for migration are presented in this strategy.  However, through the course of action planning, specific activities for recovery and mitigation will be evaluated and detailed in the action plan for these populations along with an evaluation of effects and costs for each activity or measure.  Therefore, taking into account the general nature of the recommendations for new mitigation to recover these populations and that many of the recommendations to protect critical habitat fall under existing legislation and policies, this strategy will not entail any new significant adverse effects. 


SARA defines residence as: “a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating” [SARA S2(1)].

Residence descriptions, or the rationale for why the residence concept does not apply to a given species, are posted on the SARA public registry.


The northern and southern resident populations of killer whales are marine mammals and are under the jurisdiction of the federal government.  The Species at Risk Act (SARA, Section 37) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed extirpated, endangered or threatened species. The northern and southern resident populations of killer whales were listed as threatened and endangered, respectively under SARA at proclamation on June 5, 2003.  Fisheries and Oceans Canada – Pacific Region led the development of this recovery strategy. The strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 39-41). This Recovery Strategy was developed in cooperation or consultation with many individuals, organizations and government agencies, in particular:

  • Environment Canada, Parks Canada, Department of National Defence, Natural Resources Canada, the Province of British Columbia, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Washington State Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.
  • Marine Centre for Whale Research, The Whale Museum, The Vancouver Aquarium, and the University of British Columbia
  • Whale Watch Operators Association NW and the North Vancouver Island Whale Watch Operators

Please see the Record of Cooperation and Consultations -Appendix D for further details.

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