U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in MARINE MAMMAL SCIENCE, 24(3): 719–729 (July 2008).


Beginning in the late 1980s, large groups of previously unidentified killer whales (Orcinus orca) were sighted off the west coast of Vancouver Island and in the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia. Scientists working in this region produced two killer whale photo-identification catalogues that included both transient (mammal-eating) whales and 65 individual whales that investigators believed represented a distinct killer whale community (Ford et al. 1992, Heise et al. 1993). It was thought that these killer whales maintained a generally offshore distribution and were provisionally termed “offshores”; a term that has since been used as a population identifier for the eastern temperate North Pacific offshore killer whale population. Then in September 1992, 75 unidentified whales entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca just south and east of Victoria, British Columbia (Walters et al. 1992). Although most of these whales had not been seen before, two were matched to killer whales in the Queen Charlotte photo-identification catalogue (Ford et al. 1992, Heise et al. 1993) and were thus listed as “offshore” killer whales. During a similar time period, other large groups of killer whales, previously unidentified, were also being sighted off Alaska and California (Dahlheim et al. 1997; Nancy Black and Alisa Schulman- Janiger, unpublished data, respectively).