Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance acts to reduce the mortality rates of cetaceans – particularly of Orcinus orca in the Salish Sea – through research, education and related activities.


Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance is a volunteer-driven 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization focused on recovering the population health of the endangered southern resident killer whales (SRKWs) of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea. Orca Relief relies on the best available science to demonstrate what must be done to protect and recover J, K, and L pods, particularly from the noise and stress they experience from the commercial motorized whale watch boats and the many private boats they attract. We are dedicated to creating a Whale Protection Zone on the west side of San Juan Island, Washington state to provide a safe haven that will assist Puget Sound’s endangered Orca in their recovery.

History of ORCA Relief:

In 1997, Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance was established when founder Mark Anderson anticipated a serious decline in the number of the now-endangered sub-population of Orcinus orca – the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs) – due to the increase of noise in their Salish Sea and Puget Sound habitats. Limited in geographic range and unable to interbreed with other Orca populations, the SRKW population fell from 98 to 80 between 1995 and 2001. Orca Relief’s founder, Anderson saw a need for research and education on the causes of this increase in mortality rate, and began raising funds for research performed by scientists at the University of Washington, the Marine Mammal Laboratory at National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and others. The research supported by Orca Relief led to the current state-of-the-art understanding of the causes of this population decline, as well as necessary steps to reverse it.

One of the major factors identified as precipitating this decline was the dramatic increase in the number and activities of commercial motorized whale-watching vessels, which had increased from 0 to 78 boats from 1977 to 1997. To study this issue, Orca Relief sponsored several major research projects on boat and whale interactions, including energetic effects (the amount of energy expended by whales around boats) and the effects of engine noise on Orca sonar. In 2005, Orca Relief was significantly involved in the successful effort to have the Orca listed as an endangered “distinct population segment” under the federal Endangered Species Act, followed by successful advocacy to persuade NMFS to include noise and disturbance reduction in its species recovery planning.

Orca Relief was also a primary driver of the successful effort to create new mandatory distance regulations for motorized vessels, set in 2011. However, it was not successful in persuading NMFS to adopt its own third proposed remedy; significant habitat protection with a Whale Protection Zone, located off the west side of San Juan Island, Washington, where the whales would have a chance to rest, feed, and socialize without noise and disturbance nearby. During these three federal regulatory processes, Orca Relief provided in-depth analysis of the science (especially on noise and disturbance) and conducted the most successful petition of support ever from San Juan County. It also worked proactively to change public perception of motorized whale watching and promote shore-based observation of these animals. Unfortunately, the Salish Sea’s resident Orca have continued to decline. As January 2017, there are only 78 individuals – the lowest population count since 2001.

On November 4th, 2016, Orca Relief called on the National Marine Fisheries’ Service (NMFS), in the form of a regulatory petition, to take the steps needed to protect the SRKWs by creating a Whale Protection Zone in Haro Strait off San Juan Island.

To show your support for the protection of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, please sign the public People’s Petition generated by Orca Relief. Click here. It is imperative we safeguard these remarkable creatures and give them the space and quiet time they need to thrive again.