banner-enc77 copy.jpg




Encounter #77 on September 18, 2021 (Photograph by CWR's Dave Ellifrit).


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.

20110706AVG_SJ3-105 L47 with her youngest son L115 in 2011.JPG


Southern Resident killer whale grandmother missing

The Center for Whale Research (CWR) is sad to report that Southern Resident killer whale, L47, is missing from our 2021 census. CWR last encountered L47 on February 27 in Swanson Channel, where she did not appear to be in particularly poor condition. 
Read more

L47 with her youngest son, L115, in 2011

(Photograph by CWR's Astrid van Ginneken)


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 this 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. The ranch, smack in the middle of the recovering Elwha Valley habitat, has been renamed: BIG SALMON Ranch


The salmon abundance from the Elwha River ecosystem, which flows 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.

“The one bright spot that we can see in the Chinook salmon issue resides in the Elwha River ecosystem. Demolition of two obsolete hydroelectric dams that blocked salmon from the headwaters and historical salmon spawning ‘grounds’ was completed in 2014. The salmon are coming back in greater numbers each year, and in twenty more years, they may reach historical population levels. Restore the ecosystem, and the salmon will recover, is the message. Un-build it, and they will come. It is a good story that saves the fish and us from beating our heads against an entrenched political and economic system that ignores ecological reality. We decided to champion a good example as a model for other river ecosystems that can ultimately provide food for the whales.” - Ken Balcomb, CWR Founder and Senior Scientist

Aerial view of CWR's BIG LEGACY Project: BIG SALMON Ranch nestled alongside Washington States Elwha River. 

Photograph by John Gussman/DOUBLECLICK PRODUCTIONS

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.


45 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 



10:00 - 4:00

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.

Attention Educators! We know that most learning is taking place virtually due to Covid-19 restrictions. Please know that our Education & Outreach Manager, Katie Jones, is available for talks about Southern Resident killer whales via Zoom. Please contact for more information!