The Seattle Times won an international science journalism award for its special report “Hostile Waters: Orcas in Peril,” about the plight of endangered southern resident orcas.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) announced Wednesday that the series’ team — including reporter Lynda Mapes, photographer Steve Ringman, graphic artist Emily Eng, videographer Ramon Dompor and video editor Lauren Frohne — won the Gold Award and a $5,000 prize in the large newspaper category in the 2019 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards.

The nod is the Times’ third major award for the “Hostile Waters” series. In September, the Online News Association awarded the Times first place in explanatory reporting, topping finalists at The Washington Post and The New York Times. The team also won a National Headliner Award for journalistic innovation.

The “Hostile Waters” project began more than 18 months ago as the Times newsroom sought to tell the story of the endangered pods of killer whales that frequent Puget Sound. Then, in summer of 2018, mother orca Tahlequah carried her dead calf for 1,000 miles and 17 days, capturing worldwide attention. Only 73 southern residents orcas remain.

That fall, the first part in the series told the story of a healthier population of resident orcas in British Columbia and Alaska, where they enjoy cleaner and quieter waters.

Part 2 told the history of an era of orca captures, when a generation of southern resident orcas was taken from Puget Sound for aquariums around the world, and the efforts to stop the captures.


Part 3 focused on the saga of salmon and how their decline has deprived southern residents of their favorite and most important food, chinook.

Part 4 of the series investigated how human noise interferes with the orcas’ ability to find the fish they need. Tankers, ferries, recreational boats and other vessels produce sound that can mask the echolocation the orcas use to hunt.

Finally, in Part 5, the team examined conditions in California, where the whales still go to chase a memory of plentiful food even though Sacramento River runs have cratered. The situation there served as a backdrop for examining the future of the Puget Sound area.

Hostile Waters: Orcas in Peril

ABOUT THIS SERIES “Hostile Waters” exposes the plight of Puget Sound's southern resident killer whales, among our region's most enduring symbols and most endangered animals. The Seattle Times examines the role humans have played in their decline, what can be done about it and why it matters.