Northern Resident Community
The origin of what we call the “northern resident community” of British Columbia orcas probably dates back to the end of the last Ice Age 10-12,000 years ago, when the coastal ocean became habitable for a wide diversity of marine life again, including salmon and orcas. The salmon spawned in great rivers and small streams, and the orcas adjusted their habits and lifestyles accordingly. Orca society had presumably already evolved much the form we see it in today… with closely bonded family groups of mothers and their offspring forming “matrilines”; extended families called “pods” formed from families of genetically close relatives; and beyond them other groupings of families called “clans” that are based on their acoustic traditions. Collectively, these families became the community that shared the ocean space of the central coast of British Columbia. Following the rhythm of the seasons through the years, from generation to generation, the whales still roam the coastal waters of their ancestors. Today, after thousands of years together, there are 34 matrilines totaling a few more than 200 members in the northern resident community. The whales inhabit an ocean area that has a north-south dimension of about 500 km, taking them from northern Vancouver Island to S.E. Alaskan waters. Their lifestyle is communal and cooperative, with habits and movements that we understand to some extent but which also retain a healthy component of mystery. From long years of careful photo identification work by a group of researchers inspired by the late Dr. Michael Bigg, we know the makeup of the families in intimate detail.