Species Profile

Killer Whale Northwest Atlantic / Eastern Arctic population

Scientific Name: Orcinus orca
Other/Previous Names: Killer Whale (Northwest Atlantic / Eastern Arctic populations)
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
COSEWIC Range: Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2008
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern
COSEWIC Status Criteria:
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: Threats to this population include hunting in Greenland, acoustical and physical disturbance, which will become greater as shipping traffic increases in the Arctic, and contaminants. This population's small size (fewer than 1000 mature individuals and likely less than 250) and the species' life history and social attributes justify designation as Special Concern.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Species considered in April 1999 and in November 2001, and placed in the Data Deficient category. Re-examined in November 2008 and designated Special Concern.
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd):

No schedule - No Status

Individuals of this species may be protected under Schedule 1 under another name; for more information see Schedule 1, the A-Z Species List, or if applicable, the Related Species table below.

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Habitat | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Killer Whale

Killer Whale Photo 1

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Description

The Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) is a member of the dolphin family, Delphinidae. It is easily recognized by its distinct black and white patterns. The Killer Whale is known as 'aarluk' in Inuktitut and has the following characteristics: • Tall, uniquely-shaped dorsal fin on individual whales; • Dorsal fin height of males is greater than that of females; • Pectoral fins and tail flukes are longer in males than in females; • Tail fluke tips curve downward in males; • Unique grey-white area at the base of the dorsal fin, known as the ‘saddle patch’, helps to distinguish individuals; • Longest male recorded at 9.0 m; longest female at 7.7 m; • Heaviest male weighed 6,600 kg (7.65 m); heaviest female 4,700 kg (6.58 m); and • Calves range from 2.2 to 2.5 m in length at birth.

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Habitat

Killer Whales are found in all of the world’s oceans. Their Canadian distribution includes the coastal waters of British Columbia from Haida Gwaii in the north to Vancouver Island. Little is known about the range and distribution of the Northwestern Atlantic/Eastern Arctic Killer Whales. Historically, they were common in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and St. Lawrence estuary; however, they are now most often recorded in the coastal waters of Newfoundland, particularly in the Strait of Belle Isle. Sightings in the eastern Arctic have increased over the past few decades, particularly within the Hudson Bay region, whereas Killer Whales are uncommon in the western Arctic. The specific habitat requirements and life history in the Northwestern Atlantic/Eastern Arctic Killer Whales are not well understood. They can tolerate wide ranges of salinity, temperature and turbidity.

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Threats

Little is known about threats to Killer Whales in the northwestern Atlantic and eastern Arctic. Degraded habitat quality due to physical and acoustical disturbances, and increasing levels of contaminants are likely threats to Killer Whale populations. Killer Whales on the east coast of Canada may also be vulnerable to toxic spills. In the Arctic, Killer Whales are also hunted.

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Protection

Federal Protection

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

6 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Killer Whale, Northwest Atlantic / Eastern Arctic populations (2009-11-25)

    Threats to this population include hunting in Greenland, acoustical and physical disturbance, which will become greater as shipping traffic increases in the Arctic, and contaminants. This population's small size (fewer than 1000 mature individuals and likely less than 250) and the species' life history and social attributes justify designation as Special Concern.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2009 (2009-08-28)

    2009 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing licence(#QUE-LEP-002C-2019 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-07-15)

    MICS conducts analysis on population dynamics, distribution and habitat use (e.g. identifying important habitat) and is also monitoring changes of these parameters over time. Further work includes the study of reproduction, genetic relatedness within and between populations, as well as toxicological assessments of these species. MICS also conducts social and behavioural studies on these species. The activities authorized by this licence consist of: 1. Making close and repeated approaches to Blue Whales, Fin Whales, Humpback Whales, Killer Whales, Minke Whales, North Atlantic Right Whales and Sperm Whales with a vehicle within a distance of less than 100 metres. 2. Taking photography of marine mammals. 3. Collecting biopsy samples using a crossbow and biopsy darts of Blue Whales, Fin Whales, Humpback Whales, Killer Whales, Minke Whales, and North Atlantic Right Whales, accordingly to the protocol approved by the Animal Welfare and Ethics Committee. 4. Tagging or marking and attaching suction cup on individuals of Blue Whales, Fin Whales, Humpback Whales, Killer Whales, Minke Whales, and North Atlantic Right Whales. 5. Using a UAV to obtain aerial pictures to identify individuals through photo-identification.
  • Explanation for issuing other simliar documents(#QUE-LEP-005B-2019 ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-08-06)

    Conduct research to better understand and address the cumulative effects of shipping noise on North Atlantic right whales (NARW), northern bottlenose whales and other cetaceans in the waters of Eastern Canada. This includes work to better establish baselines for noise in eastern Canada (as well as the health and wellbeing of the animals), examine potential overlap with NARW occurrence, and increase understanding of noise impacts on NARW. The licence holder is authorized to do the following activities: 1. Making close and repeated approaches to species herein mentioned with a vehicle within a distance of less than 100 metres. 2. Taking photography of marine mammals. 3. Collecting biopsy samples using a crossbow and biopsy darts of species herein mentioned. 4. Collecting faecal samples. 5. Tagging or marking and attaching suction cup on species herein mentioned. 6. Using a drone to obtain aerial pictures to identify individuals through photo-identification and to collect blow samples.

Consultation Documents

  • Killer Whale (Northwest Atlantic/Eastern Arctic Population) Consultations on listing under the Species at Risk Act (2015-01-15)

    Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) provides legal protection for wildlife species at risk to conserve biological diversity. It also acknowledges that all Canadians have a role to play in the conservation of wildlife species. Before deciding whether Killer Whales (Orcinus orca), Northwest Atlantic/Eastern Arctic population, will be added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk, we would like to hear your opinion, comments, and suggestions regarding the possible ecological, cultural, and economic impacts of listing or not listing this species under SARA.
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