Center for
Orca Survey since 1976

The Center for Whale Research (CWR) is dedicated to the study and conservation of the Southern Resident killer whale (orca) population in the Pacific Northwest.

Meet K45!
Newest K Pod Calf

On July 9, we met the newest member of K Pod, K45.

We received word that Southern Resident orcas were inbound from the west side of Vancouver Island, and in the group were members of K Pod whom we had not seen since November 21, 2021. 


K45 alongside K20. Photo taken during Encounter #37 on July 9, 2022.

©Center for Whale Research

Dr. Michael Weiss named as RESEARCH DIRECTOR
for Center for Whale Research

On May 25, 2022, Center for Whale Research Founder and Senior Scientist Ken Balcomb and the CWR Board of Directors named Dr. Michael Weiss the new Research Director of the organization.


Dr. Michael Weiss: “Being selected as the Center for Whale Research’s new Research Director is a true honor. I’m extremely grateful to Ken [Balcomb] and the CWR Board of Directors for this amazing and important opportunity. I’ve been around the Salish Sea orcas for nearly a decade, so I’ve watched the ongoing decline of the Southern Resident community with great sadness. I firmly believe that science-based decision making, paired with political will and action, is the only thing that is going to save these whales.”

Ken Balcomb: “The CWR Board of Directors enthusiastically welcomes Michael to our whale-dedicated mission. It is imperative that we continue the important demographic and behavioral research that we have done for 46 years, and Dr. Weiss is the perfect person to lead it. Welcome, Dr. Michael Weiss.”


The non-profit San Juan Island, Washington-based Center for Whale Research (CWR) is a world leader in cetacean research and conservation. For five decades, the organization has studied killer whales in the Pacific Northwest. CWR Founder and Senior Scientist Ken Balcomb, cetacean photo-identification pioneer, began ORCA SURVEY in 1976. The long-term orca observation study continues today: CWR field staff collect data on Southern Resident and Bigg’s killer whale demography, behavior, and social structure. The dataset, which now spans 46 years, is one of the longest-running studies of a marine mammal anywhere in the world and has provided unprecedented insights into killer whale biology and ecology and informs management decisions to assist in the recovery of the Southern Resident orca population.


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Action: Center for Whale Research purchased a 45-acre ranch along Washington State's Elwha River, taking a BIG leap in conservation to preserve Chinook salmon habitat.

In October 2020, CWR added an ecosystem approach to saving the Southern Resident orcas by buying a ranch bordering both sides of the Elwha River, in a stretch of the mainstream river where a majority of the remnant native Chinook salmon now spawn. Balcomb BIG SALMON Ranch is smack in the middle of the recovering Elwha Valley habitat


The salmon abundance from the Elwha River ecosystem, flowing into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, can provide a healthy food source for the Southern Resident orcas and a sustainable, nearshore artisanal fishery in the Strait.

Watch Sealife Productions’ Florian Graner’s new twelve-minute video Elwha River Salmon Recovery, a story about the Elwha salmon since Washington State removed the river’s two dams in 2012 and 2014. The wildlife documentary producer and marine biologist provides an update on the now thriving Elwha River ecosystem. The video offers an objective take on where salmon recovery is presently and what’s still to come. And it’s as educational as it is informative. The film footage of salmon species at different stages of their lives is riveting—Chinook/King salmon, in particular. 

Together we CAN help
Become a CWR Member or make a DONATION

The Center for Whale Research has been studying these amazing whales since 1976, but our work is far from over. We need your help to continue our studies and to speak out on the Southern Resident orcas behalf.


46 years of RESEARCH

Every year for over four decades, we have collected detailed demographic data on the Southern Resident killer whale population, recording all observed births and deaths. We have also gathered detailed information on the behavior and ecology of these animals, including information on where the animals are in geographic location and time, and their social behavior and foraging patterns. This dataset has provided ground-breaking insight into killer whale biology and ecology that we hope will help to inform management decisions to conserve this vulnerable and now endangered population.

On the water


An Encounter refers to any time we observe killer whales (orcas), from one of our research boats or land, where at least one individual is identified and photographed. Typically, 2-4 staff are involved in an encounter. Once we come into contact with whales (i.e., within a distance of identifying individuals by sight), we have begun our encounter. During an encounter, our primary goal is to photograph every individual present from both the left and right sides.   

Orca Survey


185 S. First St., Friday Harbor, San Juan Island WA 

Thursday-Sunday 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

Become immersed in the world of whales through our interactive displays. Watch amazing videos and listen to the whales vocalize underwater. See big screen video footage of the whales in the wild as experienced from our research boats. Come meet the naturalists and researchers, they'll share their knowledge of the magnificent whales of the Salish Sea.