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CWR Member News // Published Quarterly

Sept //2018

the WHALE Report

Video taken under Center for Whale Research Permit 21238. Image extracted from video.

Aerial Observation Study

The Center for Whale Research's newest research study is using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (often referred to as “drones”) to study the behavior of the Southern Resident killer whales from a new perspective. 
Read details about the study below

a rare view

from overhead


We’re all sick of documenting dead and dying whales.
The science is clear.
All that’s left is generating the political will to act.
If I have one hope right now, it’s that J35’s story, and the attention it’s received, will go some way towards doing that [breaching the lower four dams on the Snake River].
- Michael Weiss 

July 2018: Center for Whale Research Field Biologist and Ph.D. candidate, Michael Weiss, comments about his and Dave Ellifrit's encounter with J35 on the day of her calf's death (see Encounter #52, July 24).

in this ISSUE


current CWR Action

The Center for Whale Research's number one priority is the continuation of the Orca Survey project. However, we are working very hard advocating for immediate action on the Chinook salmon recovery front. Also, we are actively reaching out to as many people as we can with a focused educational message, asking these individuals, like you, to take personal action to push positive change on the salmon issue, for the benefit of the Southern Resident orcas. See Members news (i.e., What other action can you take?) for some ideas about other things that you can do to help.​​

Speaking Out: During the summer months, CWR spoke tirelessly and relentlessly to what we believe could save the Southern Resident orca community: Partial recovery of regional Chinook salmon stocks. The following are a sampling of the CWR message.
  • June 14: CWR's Ken Balcomb attended Meeting #2 of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force in Olympia, Washington (Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force Meeting #2: Summary).
    Note. Ken Balcomb is a Task Force member.

  • July 18: Ken Balcomb spoke at Superpod 6 in the San Juan Community Theatre in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island. Those in attendance at Superpod 6, July 16-20, listened to an international group of scientists, filmmakers, authors, journalists, and orca advocates who want to see killer whales thrive in their natural habitat. Balcomb spoke on the subject of salmon abundance. View his and other Superpod 6 presentations on YouTube.  



"The activities of the past two weeks are just the whales telling the story that I could never tell..." 

Ken Balcomb referring to the death of J35's calf while speaking at Meeting #3 of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force on August 7.

"We have to do something about getting more salmon [Chinook] available to them... It's going to have be restoring the fish population to at least some semblance of what they use to be." 

Ken Balcomb's final comment about the J35 and J16 stories during a King5 News Seattle broadcast on August 3.

 to each & EVERY ONE of you


Without the generous support by all of you - our members and donators - the Center for Whale Research would not have the financial means to advocate on behalf of the Southern Resident orcas in the various ways that we have and will continue to do. CWR's most recent and visible actions are shown in this edition of the WHALE Report. 


Outreach and Education:

The Center for Whale Research opened the Orca Survey Outreach & Education Center in Friday Harbor in July 2018.

The official Grand Opening of the Orca Survey Outreach & Education Center, including a ribbon cutting ceremony, took place on Tuesday, August 21. See a slideshow of the Grand Opening.


The outreach and education center has welcomed hundreds and hundreds of visitors during the past two months. Our staff of trained naturalists and volunteers and CWR staff have been on hand seven days a week answering questions and asking visitors to support CWR's efforts to assist in the recovery of the Southern Resident orcas.


We hope that the information provided to visitors will “trickle up” to elected officials and bureaucrats that set natural resource policy resulting in appropriate management decisions. Current decisions by governments are forcing our beloved SRKW into slow-motion extinction due to vanishing food resources (primarily Chinook salmon).

The mission of the Orca Survey Outreach & Education Center is to educate and give back to the public the information and knowledge that CWR, and our colleagues, have gathered during 43 years of research of killer whales (orcas) in the waters surrounding the San Juan Islands.

Orca Survey Outreach & Education Center is located at 185 South 1st Street, Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington (across from the Friday Harbor ferry terminal, between the restaurants The Hungry Clam and Mr Believable's).


A bunch of the CWR team outside the Orca Survey Outreach & Education Center.


CWR's Dave Ellifrit and Katie Jones at the Orca Survey Outreach & Education Center official opening on August 21.



2018 Encounter summary

20180712KCB_JF2-066_K21 and Mt Baker.jpg

K21 and Mt. Baker photograph by Ken Balcomb. Please remember this image is for personal use only.

Encounters in 2018:
64 Encounters through August 25, 2018 
  • Southern Resident killer whale encounters: 28

  • Transient killer whale encounters: 36


Encounters since the WHALE Report/June 2018, #35 thru #64, are marked on the map below with red numbered locator dots (desktop version only). These locator dots are active links to the full Encounter Summary.

SRKW Population update

Southern Resident orca population: 75 (July 2018*)
J Pod = 23, K Pod = 18, L Pod = 34


During the past three months, the Southern Resident orca population declined by one, from 76 to 75, with the loss of L92, a 23-year-old male (see Encounter #37, June 11, 2018).
From January through August, CWR staff encountered Southern Resident orcas 28 times in inland waters. So far in 2018, J Pod has been seen 26 times, K Pod 8 times, and L Pod 6 times.


In the three years before this year (January-August), CWR staff observed and documented SRKW in inland waters as follows: 2017 - 26, 2016 - 40, 2015 - 39.


Since the last the WHALE Report (June 1), researchers have encountered the Southern Residents 17 times. 


*The official annual count of Southern Resident orcas is reported July 1 and December 31 each year.

Video footage of part of a J Pod encounter, including J16 and J50, near Secretary Island,
B.C. on
 August 18; see 
Encounter #59 (video taken by Ken Balcomb).

J50 Update: Four-year-old, J50, calf of J16, continues to look unhealthy. She is thin, exhibiting signs of malnutrition. She continues to forage while traveling near her mother. 

Also, maybe you can ID the whales you see?

With the help of the new CWR Orca ID App.

4 screens.png

The Orca ID App is free. However, CWR would gladly accept a donation to help support future app development, our ongoing Orca Survey research, and our other outreach and education initiatives.

CWR is also interested in receiving Transient killer whale sighting reports 

The Center for Whale Research is also interested in receiving Transient killer whale sighting reports when any of these animals are in the central Salish Sea and Puget Sound areas. Please email the information gathered (i.e., date, time, location, number of whales, photographs) to the Center for Whale Research: or


Members can assist the Center for Whale Research in gathering SRKW sighting information

If you see any Southern Resident killer whales during 2018, wherever the whales are roaming, please notify the Center for Whale Research ( or with the information you have gathered (i.e., date, time, location, number of whales, photographs, etc.). This information is valuable for correlation with Chinook salmon abundance and documentation of habitat use. 



from the SCIENCE desk