top of page
banner_enc16 copy.jpg

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.
Kenneth C. Balcomb III Memorial Fund 


Please consider making a $47.00 DONATION to the Kenneth C. Balcomb III Memorial fund ($1.00 for each year of ORCA SURVEY). It will help us meet our goals: to study, conserve, educate about, and advocate for the Southern Resident orcas. Your financial contribution will go a long way to help the Center for Whale Research continue Ken Balcomb’s life’s work and carry out his wish for ORCA SURVEY to continue for 150 years.

New Center for Whale Research study reveals Southern Resident orca mothers face consequences for bearing male offspring

L22 and L89_20120618DKE_SJ1-626_edited.jpg
Screenshot 2023-02-08 at 7.14_edited.jpg

LEFT: L22 with son L89 in 2012 (Photograph by Dave Ellifrit). RIGHT: Aerial footage of L54 and her sons L108 and L117 in 2021 (Video footage by Dr. Michael Weiss).

New research by the Center for Whale Research (CWR) has shown that “providing care to weaned sons reduces female killer whales’ reproductive output.” In other words, caring for a son lessens a mother’s annual breeding success (a calf surviving to one year old) by about half! And this cost persists as male orcas age. Mothers pay more attention to their sons than their daughters, particularly once females achieve adulthood. The study’s authors found that the lifelong assistance afforded their sons came at a future price—moms dramatically reduced childbearing success.


“Our analysis demonstrates that the long-term survival benefits that Southern Resident killer whale females provide to their sons come at a significant cost to their own reproductive success,” said the Center for Whale Research’s Research Director Dr. Michael Weiss, lead author of the study by Washington State’s Center for Whale Research and the United Kingdom universities of Exeter, York, and Cambridge.


“Our previous research has shown that sons have a higher chance of survival if their mother is around,” said Dr. Weiss. “In this study, we wanted to determine if this help comes at a price. The answer is YES. Killer whale mothers pay a high cost in terms of their future reproduction to keep their sons alive.”


The study used the Center for Whale Research’s ORCA SURVEY data from 1982-2021, concentrating on 40 females in the Pacific Northwest’s Southern Resident killer whale (orca) population.


The study, Costly lifetime maternal investment in killer whales, published February 8, 2023, in the journal Current Biology, was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (United Kingdom) and National Marine Fisheries Service (United States).


Read the complete study


Screen Shot 2021-11-08 at 1.43_edited.jpg
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.


47 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 

WEDNESDAY - SUNDAY  10:00-5:00

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.

bottom of page