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“One of the best days of my life!”

ONE YEAR AGO TODAY: The Center for Whale Research’s (CWR) Lodie Gilbert Budwill spent the better part of July 11, 2022, aboard the CWR research vessel Orcinus and surrounded by more than fifty Southern Resident orcas. Read her description of events and watch her video, then decide if you agree with her declaration: “One of the best days of my life!”

Photographs and video © Copyright 2023 Center for Whale Research.

L105 midway through a breach (Encounter #39, photograph by CWR’s Dave Ellifrit)

Just like the saying, “What goes up must come down,” when members of all three Southern Resident pods headed up toward the Fraser River, there was great anticipation on San Juan Island, waiting for them to come back down! And on the morning of July 11th, they did just that!

Dave Ellifrit, the Center For Whale Research’s ORCA SURVEY Lead and ID Specialist, told me to pack a bag and be prepared just in case it was a long day! Dave needed to get photo IDs, both left and right side pictures of whales that hadn’t been seen in inland waters this year. It turned out to be a 9-hour day and one of the best days of my life!

We headed out from Snug Harbor at 0910 on the CWR research vessel Orcinus. The water was flat and glassy, conditions were perfect, and we were in the company of J, K, and L pod members within 25 minutes. The whales behaved like they were familiar with the research boat and Dave at the helm. As he operated Orcinus around the whales at a respectful and responsible distance, we were welcomed with breaches, cartwheels, and spyhops. They were exhibiting playful behaviors and were obviously comfortable frolicking in our presence.


The whales behaved like they were familiar with the research boat and Dave at the helm.

J16 cartwheeling (Encounter #39, photograph by CWR intern Rachel John).

After Dave shot the ID photos he needed in this group, he said, “We’re going to leave these guys for now and let them have their space,” adding he had a feeling the day was only going to get better. That was hard to believe at the moment, but he was absolutely right! Dave had specific whales he still needed to find and document. Like a dog on a bone, aiming to get the job done and done right!

Over the duration of the day, Dave took ID photographs, as did CWR intern Rachel John, while I shot video. The whales were especially active and very curious. One of my favorite moments was with L86 and her calf L125. As you will see in the video, L125 breaks away from mom and swims parallel to the boat, looking up at us while Dave says, “Hi, Sweetie.” Then she zips back over to her mom!

CWR’s Lodie Gilbert Budwill’s “One of the best days of my life!” video

(Encounter #39 on July 11, 2022).

Despite the exciting behaviors exhibited by various Southern Residents groups, Dave still needed to locate a few specific whales for documentation and photo identification. In the ninth hour, we finally found K20 with son K38 and her new calf K45. Knowing Dave’s dedication to these whales, if we hadn’t seen them when we did, I think he would have continued searching for as long as we had light. He needed to meet and document the newest Southern Resident calf.

K45 with its mother K20 (Encounter #39, photograph by CWR’s Dave Ellifrit).

As we motored back to the harbor, I said to Dave, “You have the best job in the world.” He smiled and shared how special it had been to follow his lifelong passion, despite suffering through the loss of numerous beloved whales and the constant worry about the Southern Resident community’s long-term survival. “But today was a really good day.”


“But today was a really good day.”


Lodie Gilbert Budwill is the Center for Whale Research’s Community Relations Coordinator and sits on CWR’s Board of Directors. She is responsible for developing community relationships, business partnerships, and special events. She is a team member in fundraising and philanthropy and continues to be instrumental in developing CWR’s ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center.


Funding CWR’s new research vessel Our MOST IMPORTANT orca research tool

In our changing research world, where the whales are more spread out and spend less time in their core summer habitat waters, we need a vessel that travels further, faster, and in various weather conditions. This LIFE PROOF boat will meet these challenges. Vessel Fundraising: We invite your financial gift toward the cost of this vital research equipment upgrade/update. Money donated will directly support the purchase of CWR’s new research vessel. The Vessel: LIFE PROOF BOATS are custom-made. CWR has specified the design and instrument requirements to meet our on-the-water safety and science needs for decades to come. Vessel Delivery: The approximate 18-month construction schedule will see the Center for Whale Research taking possession of our new research vessel in late-fall 2024.

Read CWR Research Director Dr. Michael Weiss’s BLOG: New vessel will open up new opportunities for Center for Whale Research fieldwork to learn more about CWR’s research vessel requirements.

We are sincerely grateful to those who have helped launch our fundraising initiative. We genuinely appreciate your support.

The Center for Whale Research is a 501c3 non-profit organization registered in Washington State. CWR is a 501(c)3 - ID #91-1334319


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