Southern Resident killer whales

NFWF Announces More than $900,000 in Grants from the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program

Grants will address food source challenges and other threats facing endangered Southern Resident killer whales

Southern Resident killer whales | Credit: NOAA Fisheries

SEATTLE (Dec. 3, 2020) – The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced $918,700 in grants to help stabilize and recover the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population in coastal Washington and British Columbia. The grants will generate $3.2 million in matching contributions for a total conservation impact of $4.1 million.

The grants were awarded through the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program (KWRCP), a partnership between NFWF, Shell Oil Company, SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NOAA Fisheries. 

The projects supported by the eight grants announced today will address three threat categories prioritized by the Washington Governor’s Orca Task Force in 2018, including: (1) prey availability; (2) vessel impacts; and (3) toxins and pollutants. 

The 73 remaining Southern Resident killer whales depend upon on a variety of salmon and other fish as their primary food source, but they especially prefer adult Chinook salmon. Recent research has determined that Chinook currently have low survival rates in their early life stages. This results in fewer juvenile fish migrating from the rivers and streams where they are born, to the Pacific Ocean where they mature, before finally journeying home to spawn, taking them through the Southern Resident killer whales’ feeding grounds. The eight grants announced today support projects that study the shifting prey base for Chinook and restore habitat important to both juvenile Chinook and their prey.

“Today, much of the threat that the Southern Resident killer whales are facing are directly related to poor nutrition, which is a result of a scarcity of the large Chinook salmon that make up more than 70 percent of their diet,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “So while it may initially seem strange that a program focused on killer whales is investing so much in salmon restoration, there is no doubt that these conservation projects will make a real difference for this iconic species.”

This year’s group of projects will also reduce impacts on killer whales from commercial and recreational vessels. Sound and disturbance from large and small vessels are known to further decrease killer whale feeding success through stress and masking the echolocation the animal uses to hunt. The Orca Task Force lists several recommendations to address these concerns with recreational and commercial fishing boats, in addition to the large vessel shipping industry.  

“Restoring habitat for Puget Sound Chinook salmon provides a critical foundation for recovery of Southern Resident killer whales,” said Scott Rumsey, Deputy Regional Administrator in NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region. “This dedicated stream of funding will continue to support habitat improvements, and will further help us understand other risks to the Southern Residents so we address threats to the whales on all fronts.” 

The KWRCP supports efforts to increase partnerships and tools for killer whale conservation and management. In 2020, program support will engage landowners and developers in best practices to increase water quality and critical habitat throughout the Puget Sound, and will also explore new diagnostic tools to help assess and treat sick whales in the wild. 

“We are proud to be a part of this collaborative effort through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation,” said John White, Shell Puget Sound Refinery’s General Manager. “Our refinery’s vision is to proudly fuel life in the Pacific Northwest, which is why we’re committed to supporting regional research and conservation efforts that focus on recovering a species that is iconic to the Salish Sea and the cultural heritage of the Pacific Northwest.”

A complete list of the 2020 grants made through the KWRCP is available here. A short video about the KWRCP can be viewed here.    

About the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Chartered by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) protects and restores the nation’s fish, wildlife, plants and habitats. Working with federal, corporate and individual partners, NFWF has funded more than 5,000 organizations and generated a conservation impact of $6.1 billion. Learn more at

About NOAA Fisheries
NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the stewardship of the nation's ocean resources and their habitat. We provide vital services for the nation: productive and sustainable fisheries, safe sources of seafood, the recovery and conservation of protected resources, and healthy ecosystems—all backed by sound science and an ecosystem-based approach to management. Find out more at

About Shell Oil Company
Shell companies have operations in more than 70 countries and territories with businesses including oil and gas exploration and production; production and marketing of liquefied natural gas and gas to liquids; manufacturing, marketing and shipping of oil products and chemicals and renewable energy projects. Over the past 100 years, Shell has helped preserve and protect habitat and species through hundreds of conservation projects and initiatives. Collaborating with key organizations and environmental NGOs has enabled Shell to leverage its efforts to ensure the highest possible impact – including the protection of more than 13 million acres of wetlands.


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