Center for


Your support makes our work possible. And our work is far from over! We need your financial gifts to continue our studies, to advise governments on their critical environmental choices, to educate as many people as possible about the plight of the Southern Resident orcas, and to speak out loudly on the whales’ behalf. 
Your support will make a difference.

Thank you

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.

News Release: Dec. 2, 2020
Whale Research Non-profit Takes a BIG Leap in Conservation to Preserve Salmon Habitat
Center for Whale Research buys a ranch to help save the Orcas


Friday Harbor, WA (December 2, 2020) - In October 2020, the Center for Whale Research purchased a 45-acre ranch bordering both sides of Washington State’s 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 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 [Southern Resident orcas].” - Ken Balcomb, CWR Founder and Senior Scientist

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.   

44 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.


There is no more important issue facing the future survival of J, K, and L pods than ensuring that they have enough salmon to survive and reproduce. Restoration of the Snake River system to normative flow is essential for this to happen on a scale that is meaningful for the salmon and the whales,

and for the fishermen.
- Ken Balcomb, CWR Founder and Senior Scientist

Orca Survey


November 16, 2020

The ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center is temporarily closed until further notice as per Governor Inslee’s recent COVID 19 restrictions.

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

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.

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.

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The Center for Whale Research is a 501c3 nonprofit organization registered in Washington State.

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