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Center for

Orca Survey Since 1976

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

Dr. Kenneth C. Balcomb III

We are delighted to announce that the University of Exeter awarded our founder, Ken Balcomb, an honorary Doctor of Science degree during a celebration event in Seattle on April 8, 2024. 

This prestigious award recognizes Ken's outstanding lifetime contributions to science, conservation, and society.
His 32 peer-reviewed papers in international journals and his pioneering research have not only advanced our knowledge of killer whales but have also reshaped the field of marine science. His unwavering dedication to the preservation of the Southern Resident killer whales is a testament to his passion and will continue to resonate locally and internationally.

The University had notified Ken of its intention to honour him with the award in 2017, and he had tried to make arrangements to travel to Exeter to receive it. Unfortunately, this was not possible, so uniquely, the University travelled to Seattle.
Ken was a pioneer in marine science and a world-class scientist. We are delighted that Ken has been honoured with this award – congratulations, Dr. Kenneth C. Balcomb III.


Please SUPPORT our ongoing work.

48 years of RESEARCH

April 1—marks the anniversary of the beginning of the ORCA SURVEY project.

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.


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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.

Orca Survey


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

OPEN Friday - Sunday  10 AM - 3 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.

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