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Operations Manager Katie Jones leads an Orca Talk for a Washington State school group.

Outreach & Education Center

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

OPEN Wednesday - Sunday  10:00 AM - 5:00 PM

The Center for Whale Research (CWR) opened the ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center to address a need for effective public outreach about orcas. Read, Will an insightful outreach and education approach help bring back the Southern Resident orcas, for some background on Ken Balcomb’s downtown Friday Harbor vision.


Since the Summer of 2018, 22,000 people across North America and worldwide have learned about Southern Resident (SRKW) and Bigg’s Transient orcas and how they can help the struggling SRKW population from knowledgeable CWR staff and volunteers. Take a video tour of the ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center.

The mission of the ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center is to educate and give back to the public the information and knowledge that the Center for Whale Research and our colleagues have gathered during 48 years of research of killer whales (orcas) in the waters around the San Juan Islands.

ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center

(Click on the underlined links to learn more)

Attractions, Exhibits, and Activities:

  • VR! Virtual Reality. Experience the Whales UP CLOSE through the eyes of a whale researcher! Be introduced to a world of orcas as you’ve never seen before during a whirlwind 5-minute video ride aboard the Center for Whale Research’s research vessel when field researchers encounter whales.

  • Orca Education Stations. Watch drone videos of orcas taken by CWR field researchers. Learn how to ID individual whales. Find out which whales are females and males, their ages, and whos related.  

  • Lessons with Experts. Learn about whales from trained CWR staff and volunteers and CWR field researchers. Daily summer talks, kids programs, and periodic guest lecturers.  

  • The Whale Skull. See a full-size, real-life orca skull. ​​​​

  • *ORCA GEAR. Shop for ORCA GEAR for yourself, family, and friends: unique orca t-shirts and caps, coffee mugs, whale stickers, magnets, greeting cards, whale tail jewelry (pendants and earrings), and a Ken Balcomb co-authored book. Orca Gear proceeds support CWR research, education, conservation, and advocacy. 

*Not available online at this time.

OSC video tour

BELOW: Take a video tour of CWR’s ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island. 

SUPPORT The Center for Whale Research

You can support our orca ongoing research, outreach and education, and advocacy efforts by becoming a CWR member or making a CWR donation. Your financial contributions are very much appreciated.

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Virtual Reality

VR! Virtual Reality Whale Watching

See a world of whales as you’ve never seen before!

Virtual reality is BACK and better than ever!


AGE: Ages 5 and up can experience VR whale watching. HYGENE: The VR headsets are UV sanitized after each use.

After an absence due to COVID-19, we are excited to offer Virtual Reality (VR) again! Visitors can experience what it’s like being out on the water with Center for Whale Research staff during an exciting research encounter with Bigg’s Transient orcas.


Virtual Reality headset on, you’ll go on a whirlwind 5-minute ride aboard CWR’s research vessel, where field researchers meet orcas.

One minute the sea in Haro Strait is tranquil under a beautiful sunny sky. Then the T65Bs, T75Bs, and T75Cs arrive. See their first surfacing blows, their dorsal fins slicing the calm water surface, and a rare, once-in-a-lifetime moment when the orcas swim around and under the boat! We promise it’s practically as good as being there in person.​

BETWEEN TWO FINS: Watch this video of Alan Budwill and Center for Whale Research founder Ken Balcomb experiencing Virtual Reality whale watching at the ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center.

Education Stations

Orca Education Stations

Vast expertise about the Southern Resident & Biggs orcas

Trained CWR staff and volunteers on hand to help.

We bring you face to face with orcas in new and innovative ways. See big-screen video of the whales in the wild taken from our research boats and Center for Whale Research’s drones. Enjoy other fun and educational displays. Learn from trained CWR staff and volunteers on hand to answer questions about our beloved local whales. 


The Center for Whale Research emphasizes that the Southern Resident orcas’ primary threat is a lack of food security. They require a constant diet of healthy natural wild Chinook salmon. Orca Survey Outreach & Education Center staff stress that a sustainable source of the Southern Resident orcas’ main food—Chinook salmon—is critical to the whales’ survival.


We encourage everyone to learn as much as possible about the plight of the 75 whales in the Southern Resident orca population. With this new knowledge, we ask you to stand with CWR and speak out loudly and clearly for the powers that be to do what’s necessary to ensure these whales live long into the future.

Photographs: CWR Intern Rachel John (top) and Operations Manager Katie Jones talk about orcas with young Orca Survey Outreach & Education Center guests.

Lessons with Experts

Lessons with Experts

Learn from Salish Sea specialists!

Expand your knowledge and learn how to help.

Daily Talks. Throughout the summer months at 11 am and 4 pm, 10-20 minutes in length. Topics rotate and are different daily. There’s always something new to learn, even if you’re visiting the island for multiple days. Some of the Daily Talks are:

  • How to Photo ID Orcas

  • The Humpback Comeback - Salish Sea Humpback Whales

  • Orca Ecotypes of the Salish Sea

  • Birds of the Salish Sea

  • Marine Mammals of the Salish Sea

  • From the Field - chats with CWR research interns about their experiences on the research boat. 

Kids Programs. We love kids and their passion for learning! Our skilled staff makes learning fun for kids of all ages! Kids learning new Orca facts get to visit the ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center TREASURE CHEST for a surprise!

Attention Educators!


CWR Operations Manager Katie Jones is available for ZOOM talks about Southern Resident and Bigg’s Transient killer whales. Contact her at for more information!

Lectures with Experts. Learn from orca authorities! Public and private educational gatherings are available. Whether it’s a public presentation or a private family or children’s event, CWR’s Lectures with Experts are educational, awe-inspiring . . . and fun!​ Follow the Center for Whale Research on Facebook for announcements about upcoming Lectures with Experts topics and speakers at CWR’s ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center.


Lecture with orca expert Dr. Ingrid Visser founder of the New Zealand-based Orca Research Trust (above) and a photo gallery (below) of a group from Anacortes, WA’s The Salish Sea School.

“The [ORCA SURVEY] Outreach & Education Center provides our students with an in-depth lesson about the Southern Resident orcas, the issues they face, and what students can do to help. It helps tie our entire curriculum together while also showing the value of the enormous amounts of orca research and dedication from CWR over the years.”
Amy Eberling, Salish Sea School Executive Director
Whale Skull

The Whale Skull

A full-size, real-life orca skull!

It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before—a popular exhibit for all ages.

Probably the closest you will ever get to a full-size, real-life Bigg’s Transient killer whale skull. We have it enclosed in a display case for its protection, but you can still see all of the little, oops, BIG details. How many teeth does it have?

  • Selection of unique orca t-shirts, including DORCA

  • Center for Whale Research caps 

  • Orca-picture coffee mugs

  • Whale stickers and magnets 

  • Greeting cards

  • Whale tail jewelry: pendants and earrings

  • Book co-authored by CWR’s Ken Balcomb.

*Not available online at this time.

Shop for yourself, family, and friends.

Orca treasures to take home


ORCA GEAR proceeds support CWR research, education, and conservation. 


Photograph (above): Lodie GILBERT BUDWILL, CWR Community Relations Manager, giving other members of the Orca Survey Outreach & Education Center construction team the thumbs up.

The Beginnings

One persons vision

Read the CWR Blog: Will an insightful outreach and education approach help bring back the Southern Resident orcas? For the story behind Center for Whale Research Founder and Senior Scientist Ken Balcomb’s vision of building the Orca Survey Outreach & Education Center.

Grand Opening: August 21, 2018

Several hundred people visited and celebrated during the Orca Survey Outreach & Education Center’s opening day on August 21, 2018. The photographs below are from the Grand Opening.

Grand Opening
The Beginning
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