Life history and population dynamics of southern Alaska resident killer whales (Orcinus orca)



Resident (fish eating) killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the North Pacific have been the subject of long-term studies in several geographical regions. The current study examines population parameters in the southern Alaska resident population from 1984 to 2010 and develops a population model. The southern Alaska resident population ranges from southeastern Alaska through the Kodiak archipelago and contains over 700 individuals. We follow the life histories of 343 identifiable whales in 10 pods from two clans born before and during the study. Population parameters were comparable to those of the British Columbia northern resident population during the 1970s and 1980s, except that age of maturity was approximately one year earlier. The average annual rate of increase was slightly higher in Alaska (3.5%) than for the British Columbia northern residents (2.9%) and probably represents a population at r-max (maximum rate of growth). Reasons for the high growth rate in Alaska could be a recovery following past anthropogenic mortalities, or more likely, a response to increasing salmon returns in recent decades, resulting in an increase in carrying capacity. The slow maturation and low rate of reproductive response makes these whales slow to recover from natural or anthropogenic catastrophes.