Development of a Killer Whale Health Database to Assess Individual and Population Health of Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca)
IAAAM 2019
Betsy A. Lutmerding1*; Forrest M. Gomez1; Lisa Clowers1; Risa Daniels1; Cynthia R. Smith1; Lynne Barre2; Kirsten Gilardi3; Stephanie Venn-Watson1,4; Joseph Gaydos5
1National Marine Mammal Foundation, San Diego, CA, USA; 2NOAA Fisheries, Seattle, WA, USA; 3Gorilla Doctors, UC Davis Wildlife Health Center, Davis, CA, USA; 4Epitracker, San Diego, CA, USA; 5SeaDoc Society, UC Davis Wildlife Health Center - Orcas Island Office, Eastsound, WA, USA


Health databases are invaluable tools for assessing both individuals and groups, and have contributed to species management changes and in some cases, population growth.1,2 The southern resident killer whale (SRKW) population is an extensively studied, endangered sub-population of fish-eating killer whales in the Northeastern Pacific Ocean. The population was listed as endangered in Canada and the United States in 2001 and 2005, respectively.3 Population numbers have not recovered and continue to decline. Currently there are only 74 SRKWs. Lack of prey, toxins/contaminants, and boat traffic/noise have been cited as key threats and substantial efforts have been made to address these threats.4 UC Davis and the National Marine Mammal Foundation have collaborated to develop a comprehensive killer whale health database. This electronic medical records system permits data to be queried for individuals, within groups, and across populations to track individual animal health, better understand key factors involved in population declines and aid in population recovery. Currently, the health database includes individual identification, health assessment findings, photographs, field observations, biological sampling, contaminants, photogrammetry, sample archive information, and necropsy findings. By partnering with multiple entities in the United States and Canada, the growing database also includes information from other killer whale populations and with continued investment, will serve as a centralized, cloud-based, secure database that promotes collaboration between researchers, veterinarians, government agencies, and non-profit organizations.


The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program, NOAA Fisheries, Microsoft’s AI for Earth, and Patagonia Environmental Grants provided financial support for this work. In-kind support was provided by the SeaDoc Society, National Marine Mammal Foundation, Center for Whale Research, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Gorilla Doctors, New England Aquarium, NOAA Fisheries, Seattle Aquarium, SeaWorld, SR3, The Marine Mammal Center, North Gulf Oceanic Society, University of British Columbia, University of Washington, Vancouver Aquarium, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. We thank the numerous biologists and veterinarians that participated in several multi-day workshops, have provided data and are taking ownership of this database.

* Presenting author

Literature Cited

1.  Rolland RM, Schick RS, Pettis HM, et al. 2016. Health of North Atlantic right whales Eubalena glacialis over three decades: from individual health to demographic and population health trends. Mar Ecol Prog Ser. 542:265–282.

2.  Robbins MM, Gray M, Fawcett KA, et al. 2011. Extreme Conservation leads to recovery of the Virunga mountain gorillas. PLoS One. 6(6): e19788.

3.  National Marine Fisheries Service, Northwest Regional Office. 2008. Recovery plan for southern resident killer whales (Orcinus orca).

4.  National Marine Fisheries Service, West Coast Region. 2016. Southern resident killer whales 5-year review: Summary and review.


Speaker Information
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Betsy A. Lutmerding
National Marine Mammal Foundation
San Diego, CA, USA