The Salmon Specialists

orca killer whale with salmon
AK pod resident killer whales orcas

'Residents,'

the Salmon Specialists

'Residents' should really be called 'loud-mouthed salmon-hungry swim-with-their-mother' killer whales.  They might seem like 'residents' when they show up to their favorite fishing hole at the same time every year, but some pods of so-called 'residents' travel 1800km!  A prime example are the AF5, AF22, and AG pods that spend most of their time in Southeast Alaska, but are seen frequently in Prince William Sound, Kenai Fjords, and Kodiak.  Also the L pod in the San Juan Islands makes regular winter trips to the coast of California.

 

These salmon specialists LOVE salmon, and it makes up a huge proportion of their diet.  In our study area in the Gulf of Alaska, our research shows that Chum, Chinook, and Coho salmon are all very important for these large and calorically expensive whales.  We have found they they consume a small amount of Pacific Halibut, Arrowtooth Flounder, and a very small amount of Sockeye Salmon.  Is it a surprise to anyone that they don't seem to like Pinks very much?

 

Residents do in fact swim with their mother their entire lives, so when you see a big bull male, he is not the leader of the pack... He is a giant Momma's Boy!  He will mate outside the pod when many animals get together temporarily, then, back to live with Mom.

 

Residents are very chatty, their families/pods can be identified by their calls, check out our acoustics page. 

Here at the North Gulf Oceanic Society, we keep track of and catalogue over 30 pods and over 950 individual whales! 

Some of our resident pods and their catalogues:

AA1 pod and AA30 pod

Very seldom seen, the AAs have only been thoroughly documented 8 times since 2000. 

AB pod

 We first catalogued the ABs in 1984.  They are often found in Prince William Sound, and we can usually photograph each of them every year.  The ABs swam through the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in 1989, and lost about 1/4th of the members in the next year.  They still have not recovered to pre-spill numbers, and a few matrilines have completely died out.

AB25 pod

 We first catalogued the AB25s in 1984 as part of the AB pod.  They are most commonly found in Prince William Sound.

AD5 pod

We first catalogued the AD5s in 1984.  This pod was reliably found in Kenai Fjords and Prince William Sound, but not since 2016.  They also frequent Kodiak and Kachemak Bay.  One male in this group, 'Lobster', has had a flopped over dorsal for many years.

AD8 pod

 We first catalogued the AD8s in 1984. The AD8s are the most commonly sighted pod in Kenai Fjords in early summer.  With many easily identifiable notches, they are a favorite for many local tour operators.  They are the only pod of 'residents' to be sighted over the moraine into Northwestern Fjord.

AD11 pod

We first catalogued the AD11s in 1984. The AD11s have similar calls to the AD5s, and are likely cousins.  They are frequently seen in Kenai Fjords and Prince William Sound, and we can usually photograph each of them every year.

AD16 pod

We first catalogued the AD16s in 1984.  The AD16s have similar calls to the AKs, and are actually more genetically related to the AKs than to the other ADs.  The AD16s are known to travel deep up into the fjords of  Prince William Sound.  They are frequently seen in Kenai Fjords and PWS, and we can usually photograph each of them every year.

AE pod

We first catalogued the AEs in 1984.  They are commonly found throughout Prince William Sound, but rarely go outside into the open ocean!  A disproportionate number of males have damaged or flopped dorsal fins in this pod (though not nearly as much as in captivity!)

AF5 pod

 We first catalogued the AFs in 1984. The AF5s are one of the 3 pods that seem to spend most of their time in Southeast Alaska, between Icy Strait and Frederick Sound.  AFs and AGs make trips a few times a year to Prince William Sound, Kenai Fjords, and even Kodiak.

AF22 pod

 We first catalogued the AFs in 1984.   The AF22s are one of the 3 pods that seem to spend most of their time in Southeast Alaska, between Icy Strait and Frederick Sound.  AFs and AGs make trips a few times a year to Prince William Sound, Kenai Fjords, and even Kodiak.

AG pod

We first catalogued the AGs in. The AGs are one of the 3 pods that seem to spend most of their time in Southeast Alaska, between Icy Strait and Frederick Sound.  AFs and AGs make trips a few times a year to Prince William Sound, Kenai Fjords, and even Kodiak.

AH1 pod and AH20 pod

Very seldom seen, the AHs have not been documented much since 2003.

AI pod

 We first catalogued the AIs in 1984.   They are commonly found in Montague Strait, Hinchinbrook Entrance, and near Kayak Island.

AJ pod

We first catalogued the AJs in 1984.  They are most commonly found in Prince William Sound.

AJ8 pod

We first catalogued the AJ8s in 1984.  In recent years, the AJ8s are not seen as frequently as the AJs, but they are most commonly found in Prince William Sound.

AK2 and AK6 pods

 We first catalogued the AKs in 1984. The AK2s and AK6s seemed to split into two pods in the mid 1990's, and have nearly identical calls. The AK6 pod is the most frequent pod seen in Kenai Fjords, and is regularly seen In Prince William Sound and occasionally Kodiak.  This is also the most common pod to see rubbing on the beaches of Fox Island in Resurrection Bay.  The AK2s have been growing fast, and seem to be currently splitting into the AK9s, AK10s, and AK16s.

AL pod

Very seldom seen, our first and best documentation of the ALs was from Prince William Sound in 2009.  They have also been photographed near the Barren Islands.

AM pod

Very seldom seen, the small pod labelled AMs were first documented in Kenai Fjords, 2011.

AN10 pod

 We first catalogued the ANs in 1984.   We don't see this pod very often, but we hear them regularly on our winter hydrophones.

AN20 pod

 We first catalogued the ANs in 1984.  We don't see this pod very often, but we hear them regularly on our winter hydrophones.

AP pod

   First documented in 2003, the AP pod were not named until 2012, once the social relationships were a bit more clear.  They have been sighted in Kachemak Bay and Kenai Fjords

AS2 pod

 We first catalogued the AS pod in 1984.  We don't see this pod very often, perhaps every 3 years.

AS30 pod

 We first catalogued the AS pod in 1984

AW pod

   Very seldom seen, the AWs were first documented in 1986.  From telemetry data we know that this pod spends some time to the west of Kodiak.

AX pods

Originally the AX whales were seen in a huge multi-pod aggregation in 1990 in Montague Strait. They were tentatively described as a single pod, but we have revised that impression greatly over the years. Sightings since then indicate that these whales really belong to a number of different matrilines that do not associate much of the time. We now call them the AX1s, AX27s, AX32s, AX 40s and AX48s. Most of these whales seem to center their range around Kodiak Island, where they have been photographed. We see them occasionally, mostly along the outer Kenai Peninsula and in Kenai Fjords, where they appear to seek social contact with pods local to that area.

AX1 pod

 Very seldom seen in our region, the AX1s were last officially documented in 2019.

AX27 pod

We have documented the AX27s every couple years, last in 2019, so we have been able to keep decent track of their matrilines and acoustics.

AX32 pod

 Very seldom seen in our region, the AX32s were last officially documented in 2008.

AX40 pod 

 Very seldom seen in our region, the AX40s were last officially documented in 2018.

AX48 pod

We see certain matrilines of this large pod every few years.  Through telemetry data, we know that they spend some time along the Kodiak and Katmai coast.  

AY pod

The AYs were seen quite regularly along the Kenai Fjords coast several years ago.  However, we have not documented them since 2016.

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