4 min read

It's #WorldOrcaDay!

I first saw a wild orca in the waters of southern Alaska, in 2008. My heart stopped. My eyes watered. No photo I took could recreate the immense emotion I felt while I observed them. Since 2008, I've wondered about their mysterious presence, their colossal size, beauty, power, grace, social phenomena, and extreme intelligence.

I now reside in Seattle, Wash. Seattle is the only urban city with a resident orca population. In the cool, clean waters of the Puget Sound and Salish Sea, J, K, and L pods (our Southern Resident Killer Whales) swim, hunt, and socialize freely. However, many do not realize just eighty Southern Resident orcas remain.

"As of spring 2014, the SRKW population totaled 80 individuals ( J Pod = 25, K Pod = 19, L Pod = 36). The size of all three Southern Resident pods was reduced in number from 1965-75 as a result of whale captures for marine park exhibition. At least 13 whales were killed during these captures, while 45 whales were delivered to marine parks around the world. Today, only Lolita (Tokitae) remains alive in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium. Annual SRKW population updates occur on July 1 and December 31 each year." (Center For Whale Research, learn more at CFWR on Facebook.)

You can make a difference in the research and conservation of these gorgeous creatures. Watch and support films like Blackfish, and study the habits and behaviors of these fascinating mammals. Use your voice on Twitter and Facebook to share what you learn. Join the Orca Network: a non-profit dedicated to educating about the importance of these animals. Erich Hoyt is one of the premier orca researchers, and his book Orca: The Whale Called Killer has garnered wonderful praise for over three decades.

"There is nothing wildlife needs more urgently than truth, for once people understand, people will act with preserved habitat, protective legislation, the tools of conservation. Erich Hoyt tells the truth about the orca in his fascinating book Orca: The Whale Called Killer. It is in itself a conservation tool. Required reading." Roger Caras, ABC-TV News, New York, ErichHoyt.com

Riana Nelson, @riananelson