For 45 years (1976-present), the Center for Whale Research has conducted observation-based studies of orcas in the Salish Sea.

ORCA SURVEY: CWR staff continue to collect detailed demographic data about the Southern Resident killer whale population for the Orca Survey. This dataset continues to provide unprecedented insights into killer whale biology and ecology that can inform management decisions to assist in the recovery of the population.

CWR senior staff member Dave Ellifrit,

"Fin Guy," reviewing ID photographs taken during an encounter with Southern Resident orcas.

Aerial Observation Study: Working with a research team from the University of Exeter, CWR’s Dr. Darren Croft and Dr. Michael Weiss are using drones to study Southern Resident killer whale behavior from a new perspective.

Published Studies: See a comprehensive list of publications where the Center for Whale Research has had involvement. 



The Center for Whale Research persisted in emphasizing to state and federal politicians, government agencies, and through the media, that the PRIORITY ACTION to save the Southern Resident orca community is to satisfy their food needs. That the most effective approach to achieving a sustainable food supply for the SRKWs is removing obsolete hydroelectric dams in the US Pacific Northwest: so that spawning habitat can be restored and conserved, and natural wild Chinook salmon can recover.

Purchased BIG SALMON Ranch: In October 2020, CWR added a conservation approach to saving the SRKWs by purchasing a 45-acre ranch bordering both sides of the Elwha River, smack in the middle of the recovering Elwha Valley habitat, in a stretch of the mainstream river where a majority of the remnant native Chinook salmon now spawn. 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.

SPOKE LOUDLY to Decision Makers (directly and through the media): 

  • The Fundamental Problem with the SRKWs - Ken Balcomb's written comments to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and NOAA Fisheries in December 2020 

  • In The Media - CWR spoke out boldly in the media concerning the sick and starving animals within the Southern Resident orca community. At different times, Ken Balcomb and CWR staff were interviewed by Q13 NEWS Seattle, Victoria Times Columnist, and other journalists from television, online, print, and radio. 

Broadened General PUBLIC AWARENESS:

  • Seattle area Billboard Campaign - With support from the Ruth Foundation and Publicis Seattle, CWR launched a GET THE FACTS billboard campaign in the Seattle area about the plight of Southern Resident orcas. An estimated 22 million pairs of eyes saw the rotating billboard messages during the sixteen-week campaign in late 2019. 

Aerial view of CWR's BIG SALMON Ranch

42% Resident Babies Don't Survive
42% Resident Babies Don't Survive

Resident Orcas Extinct by 2015?
Resident Orcas Extinct by 2015?

Save the Salmon
Save the Salmon

42% Resident Babies Don't Survive
42% Resident Babies Don't Survive


ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center: Since the summer of 2018, 14,000 people from across North America and around the globe have visited the ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center in Friday Harbor, WA, and learned about the Southern Resident orcas and their struggles from Manager, Katie Jones, and knowledgeable staff and volunteers. Attractions include Virtual Reality, Education Stations, The Whale Skull, Lectures with Experts, Monday Movie Night, and more.

A mighty voice for the Southern Resident orcas is a grassroots effort. The more people who become informed and involved, and speak out, the better chance the orcas have of living another day. and Social Media Channels: CWR's website ( - approx. 480,000 pageviews in 2020!) and various social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) provide up-to-date science and facts about the SRKWs, Encounters with the orcas, and actions taken toward saving the Southern Resident population. CWR delivered the WHALE Report (quarterly educational newsletter) to all Center for Whale Research Members.

Kids & Katie MASKED at OSC_2020.jpg

Young visitors are learning about orcas at the ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center. This group is from the Anacortes-based Salish Sea School, a nature-focused school for kids and young adults.

Involvement in ONLINE Education and Film Productions:

  • DAMMED TO EXTINCTION (download or disc) - With CWR’s involvement and support from the Ruth Foundation, Steven Hawley and Michael Peterson produced the film DAMMED TO EXTINCTION. It offers a reasonable justification for removing the Lower Snake dams to benefit Chinook salmon and the Southern Resident orcas.

  • THE AMAZING GRANDMOTHERS OF THE KILLER WHALE POD - CWR's Dr. Darren Croft wrote the content for this TEDEd Animation Lesson. To date, the educational video lesson has had more than 1,000,000 views.