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Center for Whale Research PEOPLE

During the past four decades, hundreds of people have been involved as volunteers or paid staff of the Center for Whale Research (CWR). Each of these individuals has made an essential contribution to CWR and has helped the Southern Resident killer whales in their quest to survive. We would like to extend our most sincere thanks to all for the many hours invested in our mission. Here are the key people who make up CWR today.


Ken obtained his Bachelor's degree in Zoology in 1963 from UC Davis and soon after was employed by the US government as Field Biologist GS5-7, first in Eastern Pacific large whale research and later in Central Pacific marine bird research. During the Vietnam era, he was a commissioned US Navy pilot and oceanographic specialist. He then did his graduate studies at UC Santa Cruz with Dr. Ken Norris, the world-famous marine mammal biologist. While a graduate student, Ken conducted Humpback whale research in the North Atlantic with colleague Dr. Steve Katona and taught marine biology aboard r/v Regina Maris for Dr. George Nichols of ORES and Harvard University. Ken is a pioneer in photo-identification of cetaceans and is the founder of Orca Survey (1976), a study of Pacific Northwest Southern Resident killer whales (orcas). He founded the non-profit Center for Whale Research in 1985 and is its volunteer Executive Director and NWFSC contract Principal Investigator of Orca Survey. Ken is a Charter Member of the Society for Marine Mammalogy.

Kenneth C. BALCOMB

In Memoriam
Founder / Principal Investigator


Dr. Astrid van Ginneken    Co-Principal Investigator

Astrid van Ginneken is CWR's Co-Principal Investigator. She is a medical doctor with a Ph.D. in medical informatics from Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands. She is a data collection and database specialist. On her annual summer vacations from her employment at Erasmus MC, Astrid volunteers as co-principal investigator for CWR's Orca Survey. She has been a volunteer CWR staff member since 1987, has published scientific and popular articles, as well as a book about killer whales. She is well known for her exuberance for the charismatic orcas and is an accomplished wildlife photographer.



Dr. Michael WEISS                Research Director


Michael completed his Ph.D. in Animal Behaviour at the U.K.’s University of Exeter in 2020. His Ph.D. focused on the evolutionary and conservation consequences of killer whale social structure using the Center for Whale Research’s long-term dataset on the Southern Resident killer whales and new data collected from unmanned aerial observation. He received his Bachelor’s degree in biology from Reed College in 2016. His undergraduate work centered on the Southern Resident killer whales’ social structure. As the Center for Whale Research’s Research Director, Michael assumes the day-to-day role of coordinating CWR’s scientific research work: ORCA SURVEY (since 1976) and Aerial Observation Study (since 2018).


Our Field CREW

David K. ELLIFRIT    Senior Staff / Orca Survey Lead


Dave has a Bachelor’s degree from Evergreen State College and has been a CWR (Orca Survey) staff member since 1990. He is responsible for the curation of the killer whale photographic library and associated database. He is the “fin-guy,” able to recognize virtually any Eastern North Pacific killer whale (orca) at a glance. Dave does sub-contract cetacean identification work for several projects funded by the US government.


Mark MALLESON    Field Biologist

Mark was born and raised in Victoria, British Columbia and has been guiding and skippering Prince of Whales Whale Watching vessels year-round since 1997.

Mark has been collaborating with the Center for Whale Research since 2003, locating and documenting Bigg’s/Transients and Southern Resident killer whales traveling in the Salish Sea. Along with collecting photo IDs of orcas, he has been compiling an extensive catalog of Humpback whales frequenting the region. Mark has also been contracting for Fisheries and Oceans Canada since 2003.


The Rest of the TEAM

Lisa MOORBY    Website / Social Media / Communications Manager

Lisa has 37 years of experience in the communications and design fields. She first became involved with CWR in 2008 as a volunteer working on the website. Lisa's work for the Center for Whale research includes responsibility for design and maintenance of the CWR website, social media, membership/donations programs, communications; as well she assists in fundraising initiatives. Lisa and her husband Richard are ardent ocean conservationists and presently reside on Pender Island in British Columbia, Canada.



Katie JONES    Education / Outreach Manager

Katie has a degree in Zoology from Colorado State University and has worked as a naturalist in the San Juan Islands since 2001. She loves sharing her knowledge of orcas and the island ecosystem with visitors to the region. She feels that it is very important that people gain an understanding of the natural world they are viewing. In addition to working in the San Juans, Katie has worked as a naturalist in Mexico and Alaska educating travelers about everything from gray whales to grizzly bears. She has also completed a humpback whale research internship in Hawaii and spent several years as a research assistant with the Center for Whale Research. When she’s not sharing her knowledge, Katie is an avid nature photographer and spends her free time outside trying to catch the beauty of the area.



Lodie GILBERT BUDWILL    Community Relations Manager

Drawn by her passion for whales, Lodie has frequented San Juan Island since 1990, making the west side of the island her permanent residence with her family in recent years. With a background in sales and marketing, she is responsible for the development of community relationships, business partnerships, special events, and is a team member in the area of fundraising and philanthropy. Lodie has been and continues to be instrumental in the development of the new Orca Survey Outreach and Education Center in Friday Harbor, opening Summer 2018.



Dr. Darren CROFT    Scientific Advisor - Animal Social Networks

After completing his BSc (1996-1999) and Ph.D. (2000-2003) at the University of Leeds, Darren stayed at Leeds for two short postdocs, the first on social recognition mechanisms in fish (2004-2005) and the second on particle swarm intelligence (2005-2006). In 2006 he was appointed to a lectureship in animal behavior at the University of Bangor. Since 2008 he has worked at the University of Exeter, and he was promoted to a full Professor of Animal Behaviour in 2016. Darren is on the editorial board for Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology and was previously on the Ethics Committee for Animal Behaviour (2012-2016).

Upcoming research collaboration between the Center for Whale Research and Exeter University will focus on the collection of new data using non-invasive drones to record killer whale behavioral interactions to examine who interacts with whom and in what ways. With this information, CWR can refine our analysis of population viability and future predictions for the health and survival of the SRKWs.


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