the WHALE Report

June // 2019

CWR Member News  // Published Quarterly




Elder females role is critically important during prey scarcity

A 2015 study, Ecological knowledge, leadership, and the evolution of menopause in killer whales, clearly shows that leadership by postreproductive females in the Southern Resident orca population is even more important when food is lacking. 

Never to be forgotten. Granny, pictured here with J1, ruled the SRKW roost for more than half a century. In a look BACK, Ken Balcomb recalls his first encounter with the iconic J2.

Photograph of J2 and J1 was taken in 2009 by Erin Heydenreich, Center for Whale Research.

Every contribution helps. Be assured that every dollar received is carefully spent. Scroll through this issue of the WHALE Report to see your money in action.

Without the generous support by all of you, our members and donators, the Center for Whale Research would not have the financial means to continue our vital research, while at the same time being advocates for the Southern Resident orcas. We HOPE that you continue to support us:



What would it take to save these whales? A complete change in our paradigm about how we manage fisheries, how we deal with ecology and ecosystems. There’s still something alive here, but we’re failing it. It’s going downhill while everyone’s having meetings and conference calls.

Center for Whale Research's Ken Balcomb speaking with Andrew Buncombe (The Independent, United Kingdom) in his story

The killer whales of the Puget Sound are dying out and we can't save them. Posted May 10, 2019.

in this ISSUE


BEST of the Best  Encounter Photographs

In the first five months of 2019

Download our FAVORITE
of these photos in MEMBERSHIP news. For personal use only.


2019 Encounter summary

36 Encounters through May 31, 2019 
  • Southern Resident killer whale encounters: 11

  • Transient/Bigg's killer whale encounters: 25


Encounters with killer whales in inland waters since the WHALE Report (March 2019), Encounter #13 - #36, are marked on the map: Encounters with Southern Residents are denoted with blue numbered locator dots and Transients/Bigg's with black numbered locator dots. These locator dots are active links to the full Encounter Summary (desktop version only).

New Calf seen in J pod
May 30, 2019

CWR received photographs taken by the Tofino Whale Centre of a calf accompanying J pod off of Tofino on May 30. We have confirmed that the calf is a new addition, and based on its coloration and body condition was likely born some time in the last three weeks. The calf was photographed in association with several J pod females, including J31, J46, and J40. More field observations are needed to confirm the identity of the calf’s mother. Prior to 2019, the SRKW population had no documented successful births since 2016. This calf marks the second birth of 2019, following L124 in January.

Southern Resident Orca Population: 75*
J pod = 22, K pod = 18, L pod = 35

The SRKW population increased to 75 whales with the birth of L124 in January (Encounter #2). L124 appears to be a healthy calf. It was last seen on March 31 in Monterey Bay, California, traveling with its mother, L77, and other members of L Pod.

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

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

If you see any Southern Resident and/or Transient/Bigg's killer whales during 2019, 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 prey abundance and documentation of habitat use. 

When operating a marine vessel, please be sure to follow the rules of the country you are in when in the vicinity of marine mammals of any kind (US:; Canada:

CWR's Orca ID App can help you identify Southern Resident orcas. The app is FREE to download. However, we happily accept donations for the app, which help support future app development, ongoing research, and CWR outreach and education initiatives.


getting to KNOW THEM:




To date, this TEDEd Animation Lesson, written by CWR's Dr. Darren Croft, has 395,000 views.

If you haven't seen it, it's definitely worth a look.


Also, give Dr. Lynda Ulrich's in-depth story, Here’s What Killer Whales Have in Common with Your Grandmother! a read at her website,


J17, J19, K12, L47, L55

In each issue of the WHALE Report, we feature one member of the Southern Resident killer whale community. This time around, we have chosen to focus on five grandmothers that: rear, teach, and lead their pods. Each of these orcas is now considered post-reproductive.

NOTE. J16 (est. born 1972) and L25 (est. born 1928) have each been grandmothers, but their grandchildren have died. They still play a leadership role in their pod.

J17 // J17 matriline 

  • Born 1977, 43-years-old

  • Mother of four offspring, J28 (female, 1993-2016), J35 (female, born 1998), J44 (male, born 2009), and J53 (female, born 2015); four grandchildren, J46 (female, born 2009), J47 (male, born 2010), J54 (male, 2015-2016), and a neonate found on Dungeness Spit in January 2013

  • Identify J17 by her similar left and right side saddle patches: open with a finger; her dorsal fin is free of nicks (see 2019 ORCA ID guide for ID photographs)

  • In the Free Willy movies with J1 and J2. 

J19 // J19 matriline 

  • Born 1979, 41-years-old

  • Mother of two offspring, J29 (male, 1993-1993) and J41 (female, born 2005); one grandchild, J51 (male, born 2015); NOTE: J41 is the youngest mother to date in the SRKW community giving birth to J51 at the tender age of 10

  • Identify J19 by the finger on her left side saddle patch and right side saddle patch that is solid but for the trace of a finger; her dorsal fin is free of nicks (see 2019 ORCA ID guide for ID photographs).  

K12 // K12 matriline 

  • Est. Born 1972, 48-years-old

  • Mother of five offspring, K22 (female, born 1987), K28 (female, 1994-2006), K31 (male, 1999-2003), K37 (male, born 2003), and K43 (female, born 2010); three grandchildren, K33 (male, born 2001), K39 (sex unknown, 2006-2006), and K41 (sex unknown, 2006-2006)

  • Identify K12 by two very different saddle patches: narrow left side saddle patch with a thick finger and larger right side saddle patch with a long, skinny finger; her dorsal fin is free of nicks (see 2019 ORCA ID guide for ID photographs)

L47 // L47 matriline 

  • Est. Born 1974, 46-years-old

  • Mother of seven offspring, L83 (female, born 1990), L91 (female, 1995), L99 (sex unknown, 2000-2000), L102 (sex unknown, 2002-2002), L107 (sex unknown, 2005-2005), L111 (female, 2008-2008), and L115 (male, born 2010); two grandchildren, L110 (male, born 2007) and L122 (male, born 2015) 

  • Identify L47 by the hint of a finger on her left side saddle patch and the thick finger on her right side saddle patch; she has a small nick near the base of her dorsal fin's trailing edge (see 2019 ORCA ID guide for ID photographs).  

L55 // L4 matriline 

  • Born 1977, 43-years-old

  • Mother of five offspring, L82 (female, born 1990), L96 (male, 1996-1997), L103 (female, born 2003), L109 (male, born 2007), and L118 (female, born 2011); two grandchildren, L116 (male, born 2010) and L123 (male, born 2015) 

  • Identify L55 by a finger on her left and right side saddle patch (her left side saddle patch is smaller than the right side and lighter in color); her dorsal fin is tall for a female but is free of nicks (see 2019 ORCA ID guide for ID photographs).  

J17 is ailing 

For some time, sightings of J17 by CWR staff have found her exhibiting signs of malnutrition. In May, NOAA Fisheries and SR3 shot aerial photographs of her and compared them to images from 2015 and 2018.


In January, CBC News report, Matriarch orca at risk could affect the whole pod, talks about the issues surrounding the loss of a grandmother.

Photo Gallery - SRKW Grandmothers

from the SCIENCE Desk

ORCA Survey

Since 1976, the Center for Whale Research has been conducting observation-based studies of killer whales in the Salish Sea. CWR staff continue to collect detailed demographic data about the Southern Resident killer whale population for the 2019 Orca Survey, including photo-identification images of members of the SRKW community; observations of births and deaths; information about the behavior and ecology of the animals, including where the animals are in geographic location and time, and their social behavior and foraging patterns. 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.

Aerial Observation Study

Last year, the Center for Whale Research working with a research team from the University of Exeter, launched its newest research study using drones (i.e., unmanned aerial vehicles/ UAVs) to study the behavior of the Southern Resident killer whales from a new perspective. This study is helping understand the SRKW's complex lives better, revealing factors that influence survival, reproduction, social structure, and the evolution of this species unique life-history.


In early 2019, the CWR-University of Exeter SRKW Aerial Observation Study was expanded and is part of a large international project funded by the National Environmental Research Council in the United Kingdom to look at how family life influences rates of aging. CWR Scientific Advisor (Animal Social Networks) and Professor of Animal Behaviour at the University of Exeter, Dr. Darren Croft, summarizes the project: The Evolution of Sex Differences in Mammalian Social Life Histories.

Another qualified drone pilot on the CWR-University of Exeter team. Michael Weiss, CWR Field Biologist and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Exeter, is now an FAA licensed commercial UAS pilot, qualifying him to operate CWR's UAV, DJI Matrice 600 Pro. Congrats Michael.


See aerial video footage of the SRKWs and read more about the SRKW Aerial Observation Study and CWR's drone pilots.


Visit Research Publications at for a list of publications that the Center for Whale Research has had involvement. 


getting to KNOW US

excerpt from an interview with CWR's Dr. Astrid van Ginneken

Dr. Astrid van Ginneken interviewed at the Center for Whale Research.

Q: How did you get involved with killer whales and the Center for Whale Research? (watch video)

Dr. 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. Astrid is an accomplished wildlife photographer, plays sports and bridge, as well as playing piano, violin, and singing.


CWR Action, Education, & Outreach

Action: Speaking Out

The Center for Whale Research is continually demanding that politicians and government agencies take action to reverse the sizeable decline of Chinook salmon stocks in Southern Resident killer whale habitat. At every opportunity, CWR team members speak out boldly in the media concerning the sick and starving SRKWs. Also, through the Orca Survey Outreach & Education Center,, and several social media channels, members of the CWR team are continuously reaching out to as many people as possible with focused educational and Take Action messages

Education: Snake River Juvenile Salmon Survival

In April, Lin Laughy of Moscow, Idaho produced the following brochure, Snake River Juvenile Salmon Survival - SPINS you need to know, presenting THE REALITY concerning juvenile Chinook salmon survival in the Snake River dam system. In PART 2 he restates the magnitude of the loss: "To Be Accurate: the estimated loss of Snake River juvenile spring/summer Chinook salmon between hatchery or spawning grounds and the ocean stands at a likely minimum of 86%; survival at 14%." Eighty-six percent of the young salmon die! Be sure to read Lin's well-documented piece of work.

Snake River Juvenile Salmon Survival Spi
Snake River Juvenile Salmon Survival Spi
Snake River Juvenile Salmon Survival Spi

Outreach: Orca Survey Outreach & Education Centre

CWR's ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center is quickly approaching the first anniversary of opening its doors at 185 South 1st Street in Friday Harbor. To date, more than 6,000 people from across North America and around the globe have crossed the threshold and met CWR staff and learned about killer whales and how they can help the struggling SRKW population to survive. 

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.

In mid-May, seventh graders from Palouse Prairie Charter School in Moscow, Idaho brought their beautiful acrylic on canvas paintings of SRKWs to the ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center. The student's three-month school project focused on the threats facing the Southern Resident orcas and the lifecycle of female orcas (with a special emphasis on matriarchs). The paintings will be displayed in the ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center.


A BIG thank you to these students for being friends to the Southern Resident orcas and helping to raise awareness. ​

Located at 185 South 1st Street, Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, WA (across from the Friday Harbor ferry terminal, beside The Hungry Clam).


Open 7 days a week 

10 am - 5 pm.

You can Take ACTION too
In addition to your financial support of CWR, go to the Take ACTION page at to learn how you can make a difference in the effort to save the SRKW.

The Southern Resident orcas inhabit ocean waters managed by the United States and Canadian governments.

Recovery actions announced by the Government of Canada on May 10 are meant to enhance Chinook salmon stocks for the SRKWs, as well as improve foraging conditions. Read this news story for the details: Ships must keep 400 metres away as part of new rules to protect killer whales. The effectiveness of these recovery actions will be measured over time. You can comment on these new rules: 

  • Send a letter, phone, or e-mail the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Jonathan Wilkinson and the Minister of Environment & Climate Change, Catherine McKenna.

Contact: The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 200 Kent Street, Station 15N100, Ottawa, Ontario, KlA 0E6; 866-266-6603 (Aquatic Species at Risk/Let's Talk Whales;

Contact: The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment & Climate Change Canada, 200 Sacre-Coeur Boulevard, Gatineau, Quebec, KlA 0H3; 819-938-3813;

  • Canadian organizations making real progress on the issues of salmon and orca health and recovery:

Raincoast Conservation Foundation

David Suzuki Foundation

Ecojustice Canada



​​We sincerely thank all of you for supporting what we do. We cannot stress enough how much we appreciate your financial gifts. Honestly, we could not do what we do without you.
June is Orca Awareness Month

In celebration of Orca Awareness month, we have compiled a list of Orca Facts to share with CWR members and social media followers. Even the most "Whaley" person may be surprised by some of the information. Visit this page often as we will add new Orca Facts throughout June. 

Setting our sights on the future

One of our ongoing financial goals is to increase the Center for Whale Research (CWR) membership. And we are steadily heading in the right direction. For those of you who have been encouraging others to join the ranks, THANK YOU. 
Here's how all current CWR members can help toward our goal of increasing membership: If you know someone whom you think would like to learn more about the Southern Resident killer whales, send them the link to this page via email. We hope that they will read, learn, and decide to be like you and support recovery efforts on behalf of our local orcas.


Have you downloaded the Orca ID App?

Learn how to IDentify Southern Resident orcas on sight. Store your photos
of the SRKWs in the app's Favorites folder. The Orca ID App is FREE!
However, CWR would gladly accept a donation to help support future
app development, ongoing research, and our outreach and

education initiatives.​

Have you downloaded the 2019 Orca ID Guide?

Do you know which Southern Resident orcas and Transient/Bigg's killer whales are related to which? Do you know how old each of the whales is? If not, have a look at the Center for Whale Research's 2019 ORCA ID GUIDE and TRANSIENT/Bigg's ID GUIDE. A PDF download of each guide is a CWR membership benefit.​

the WHALE Report: more photos, please

In each issue of the WHALE Report, we ask you for your input about how we can make the quarterly Member newsletter better. One general wish is clear: lots of great photographs and videos. Please continue to let us know how we can make the WHALE Report relevant to your needs. Thanks.

Is there something you would like us to cover in an upcoming newsletter?

Please let us know. 

2019 ID Guide cover.jpg
Download the Best of the Best from CWR encounters so far in 2019

CWR's Dave Ellifrit took this photograph of one of J17's grandchildren, J46, doing an awkward spyhop in Rosario Strait during Encounter #30 with J pod and L87 (April 30, 2019). Please remember that the download of this image is for personal use only.


a look BACK

CWR founder Ken Balcomb recalls his first encounter with Granny (J2)

Granny, J2 (center foreground), with members of her Southern Resident orca family in September 2016.

Photograph by Ken Balcomb.

My first acquaintance with the Southern Resident killer whale designated J2 was on April 16, 1976 in Admiralty Inlet, Puget Sound.

I remember calling Mike Bigg immediately after processing my film of the encounter to notify him that we had found a group of about a dozen whales plus a few calves including a newborn, and none of them were whales that we had seen on our previous encounter on April 6 with most of the so-called southern community of these iconic “resident” killer whales. We (Camille Goebel, Rick Chandler, and I – forming a non-profit organization) were beginning our third week of a ‘Killer Whale Study in Puget Sound and Environs’ for the Seattle Marine Mammal Division of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, and I was excited to ‘discover’ any new whales that Mike did not already know. There was great controversy at the time (1976) about whether the killer whale population being ‘harvested’ for sale to marine parks and aquaria throughout the world was identifiable and finite, essentially local, or anonymous and infinite as in merely passers-by from a world ocean of these large and charismatic marine predators. Read the full encounter and see the J2 Photo Gallery - Over The Years.​

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