Transient killer whale (Orcinus orca) recovery strategy

Official title: Recovery Strategy for the Transient Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) in Canada

Table of contents

Transient Killer Whale

December 2007

Killer Whale

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, recovery is 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 recovered when 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:

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2007. Recovery Strategy for the Transient Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Vancouver, vi + 46 pp.


Additional copies:

Additional copies can be downloaded from the SARA Public Registry (

Cover illustration: Photo courtesy of Graeme Ellis, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Également disponible en français sous le titre

« Programme de rétablissement de l’épaulard migrateur (Orcinus orca) au Canada »

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

ISBN                      978-0-662-47476-0

Catalogue no.  En3-4/50-2007E-PDF

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


Fisheries and Oceans Canada has developed its recovery strategy for the transient killer whale as required by the Species at Risk Act. This recovery strategy has been prepared in cooperation with jurisdictions responsible for the species, as described in the Preface.

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 byFisheries and Oceans Canada or any other jurisdiction alone. In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans invites all Canadians to join Fisheries and Oceans Canada in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the transient killer whale and Canadian society as a whole. Fisheries and Oceans Canada will support implementation of this strategy to the extent possible, given available resources and its overall responsibility for species at risk conservation. Implementation of the strategy by other participating jurisdictions and organizations is subject to their respective policies, appropriations, priorities, and budgetary constraints.

The goals, objectives and recovery approaches identified in the strategy are based on the best existing knowledge and are subject to modifications resulting from new information. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans 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.

Responsibile Jurisdictions

The responsible jurisdiction for the transient killer whale is Fisheries and Oceans Canada.  The population occurs off the coast of the province of British Columbia and the within areas of that Parks Canada, Environment Canada, the Department of National Defence, Natural Resource Canada and Transport Canada and the province of British Columbia have jurisdiction for activities or a role in supporting transient killer whale recovery.  These agencies have all cooperated in the development of this recovery strategy.


Kathy Heise was contracted to research and draft the background section of this strategy.  The DFO Technical team (see Appendix D) developed the Recovery section, with the contributions of those acknowledged below who participated in a technical workshop. 


Fisheries and Oceans Canada is grateful for the generous contributions of Lance Barrett-Lennard, Volker Deecke, John Durban, Dave Ellifrit, Kathy Heise, Peter Olesiuk, Steven Raverty, Janice Straley, and Andrew Trites for their contributions through participating in a technical workshop to review this document, consider research needs and evaluate threats. 

Strategic Environmental Assessment Statement

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.

This recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the transient killer whales. The potential for the strategy to inadvertently lead to adverse effects on other species was considered. The SEA concluded that this strategy will clearly benefit the environment and will not entail any significant adverse effects. Refer to the following sections of the document in particular: Habitat and Biological Requirements, Ecological Role and Limiting Factors.  



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 transient population 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 transient population of killer whales was listed as threatened 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).

The following includes individuals on the technical team, and others whose feedback was officially sought in the Technical Workshop, but does not include participants in the Stakeholder Recovery Forum or feedback provided at consultations or meetings.  The following individuals participated in the Technical Workshop held in January 2007 in Vancouver, B.C.:  M. Joyce, A. Greene, J. Ford, P. Ross, P. Olesiuk, K. West, T. Lee, J. Durban, S. Raverty, L. Barrett-Lennard, K. Heise, J. Straley, V. Deecke, D. Ellifrit, A. Trites, and R. Galbraith.

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