Presenter and Co-Presenter(s)

Rylee Jensen, Utah State UniversityFollow

Expected Graduation Year



S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources


Wildland Resources Department

Faculty Mentor

Julie K. Young


The endangered Southern Resident killer whale (Orcinus orca) is an iconic species in the Pacific Northwest, particularly around the San Juan Islands of Washington state. The population is made up of three pods (J, K, and L) and each individual is given an alpha-numeric identification to designate them to their birth pod and rank (i.e. L87). Although this population has been intensely studied over the past 40 years, there is no definitive answer biologists can give as to why whales perform above-surface, “percussive” behaviors such as breaching, tail slapping, etc. My study evaluates preferences for these behaviors across different age and sex classes. My main objectives include examining the type and frequency of percussives between individuals and identifying potential factors that influence their occurrence during a passby. Data collection took place from 20 May to 10 August 2016 between 0900 and 1700 each day when the whales were present within the study area. Overall, we had a total of 21 whale days (out of an 83-day study period) with 34 total passbys. Of those passbys, 24 involved percussive behaviors, and I divided these up by which pod(s) were encountered. Future analyses will be done to determine the proportion of behaviors within each age class and pod to discourage bias, as well as to wholly fulfill my objectives for this field season. This study may provide an insight into how percussive behaviors may be indicators for this endangered population's overall behavior, which may be important for their conservation.

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