Individual orcas can be distinguished from one another by looking at preexisting  markings on their bodies. Though whales can be told apart by the markings on their cheeks or their eypatches, we primarily look at the saddlepatch, the grey marking behind the dorsal fin. Once those markings are recorded via photograph, alphanumeric (Letter-Number) codes are assigned to individuals. We have two populations of orcas in our waters, Residents, salmon-eaters, and Transients, marine mammal eaters,are identified with different alphanumeric codes.

The Southern Resident Killer Whale population is delineated with the letters J, K & L dependant on pod, and then a number for the individual telling us the order in which they were identified. For example, J2 is the second whale identified in J Pod, K33 is the 33rd whale identified in K Pod, and L94 is the 94th whale identified in L Pod. The Residents are also assigned fun nicknames by the Friday Harbor Whale Museum, so they are known by other names as well! J2 is Granny (She is estimated to be the oldest killer whale in the world at right around 105 years old this year), K33 is Tika (A growing teenage male who travels within his tightly knit family group), and L94 is Calypso (She just had her second known offspring last year, L121 Windsong).

Transient identification is a bit different as they live in a more fluid society than the Residents. Transients are delineated by the letter “T” and then a number for the individual corresponding with when they were identified within the population. For example, T065 is the 65th whale to be identified within the population.  Here is where it is differs. If T065 is female and produces offspring, her firstborn will be T065A, her second-born would be T065B, and so on. If T065A is female, her first offspring would be T065A1 and then T065A2, and so on. This enables us to keep track of the genetic links within the population and to easily monitor the behavioral associations between families within the population. Some of the Transients have nicknames as well, Like T019B is known as Galiano and T063 is known as Chainsaw.

Naturalist Sarah