top of page

the WHALE Report

December // 2022


banner-ken3 copy.jpg
A life dedicated to a cause
1940 - 2022

Kenneth C. Balcomb III

On December 15, the Center for Whale Research (CWR) lost its beloved founder and longtime leader Kenneth C. Balcomb III. Thank you, Ken, for your lifetime dedication to orca science, education, and conservation. We will carry you in our hearts forever. 

Ken’s wishes for CWR’s future

It is my vision that [the Center for Whale Research] should have a three-prong approach to the future:
1. [RESEARCH] - Continue our landmark studies of cetaceans in the Salish Sea, particularly of the ecotypes of killer whales that come into this area;
2. [
EDUCATION] - Provide public education about these cetaceans and our findings; and
3. [
CONSERVATION] - Invest in the conservation of habitats and ecosystems that are ultimately vital to the survival of the cetaceans in the sea. We do not have time to waste in continuing these efforts. The research is well recognized worldwide and will continue to be our mainstay. The educational efforts will continue to engage the public in the reasons and findings of the research. And the Balcomb Big Salmon Ranch will be a giant step toward conserving habitats and ecosystems essential to us all, whales and people alike.
— Ken Balcomb, May 2022 —

Ken Balcomb remembered

All photographs, videos, and information on are Copyright © 2022 Center for Whale Research.

“Even if I had to live on roadkill, I was going to study whales.”
For five decades, Ken Balcomb and the Center for Whale Research team have committed themselves to the best interests of the Southern Resident and Bigg’s/Transient orcas of the Pacific Northwest.
Ken Balcomb remembered



From the late 1960s through the mid-70s, killer whales (orcas) were captured and displayed in marine parks. A botched attempt to kill an orca for use as a sculpture model led to the “discovery” that they were most often docile, intelligent, and capable of learning. The common perception was that there were thousands [of orcas] . . . the Canadian government decided it was prudent to determine how many killer whales there were in this part of the world. In 1976, ORCA SURVEY was launched as a census to determine the status of the newly defined population of Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW) in U.S. Pacific Northwest waters.

This 13-minute video of Encounter #1 (April 8, 1976) is narrated by Ken Balcomb, reading from his handwritten logbook entry.


CWR’s first encounter with J pod was on April 16, 1976. 

Ken Balcomb recorded this monumental occasion in his logbook of the day. Read his complete handwritten account of the Center for Whale Research’s FIRST ENCOUNTER with J pod.

Screenshot 2023-01-04 at 1.14_edited.jpg
All photographs, videos, and information on are Copyright © 2022 Center for Whale Research. 
“The governor’s heart is in the right place, and the words are maybe going to follow. But the whales have to eat fish, not words, so it’s time to hit the road and do it.”
Ken was a skilled user of words. A constant source of profound messages. We have included a few of his most memorable quotes below.


Ken Balcomb remembered

“It doesn’t matter how much you talk. They can’t live on words, they live on salmon.”


“No fish, No Blackfish.”

[No Chinook, No Southern Resident orcas].

“I’m not going to count them to zero, at least not quietly.”

“Even if I had to live on roadkill, I was going to study whales.”

“There is no more important issue facing the future survival of J, K, and L pods than ensuring that they have enough salmon to survive and reproduce. Restoration of the Snake River system to normative flow is essential for this to happen on a scale that is meaningful for the salmon and the whales and for the fishermen.”

“We’re at a point in history where we need to wake-up to what we have to consider:

“This river had the biggest salmon in the Pacific Northwest; they were up to 125 pounds . . . they fed a food chain, and the whales were part of it. So, now that the dams have been removed, the [Elwha] river is starting to come back, and we want to celebrate it. And let the world know that this is how to do it: RECOVER THE ECOSYSTEM.”

“We bought [BIG SALMON Ranch] for the whales.”

“These whales, they’re not doing very well right now, but they’re still here, and they’re going from here to California to Alaska to wherever they have to go to find enough food to eat. [Fighting to remove the dams] is probably the most important project that I’ve undertaken in my life. There’s a lot of opposition, but we’ll prevail.”

“Maybe this is her protest.”

[Ken Balcomb talking about J35 carrying her deceased calf around the Salish Sea for seventeen days in 2020]

DamSense crafted the five infographics quoting Ken Balcomb.

Screenshot 2022-12-18 at 12.32.18 PM.png
Screenshot 2022-12-18 at 12.31.41 PM.png
Screenshot 2022-12-18 at 12.33.34 PM.png
Copy of do-we-want-whales-or-not-1024x512.png
All photographs, videos, and information on are Copyright © 2022 Center for Whale Research. 
Hamilton 3.jpg
“They are the charismatic megafauna of the marine environment around here. They absolutely captivate you to watch them. You’re in the presence of something that’s obviously bigger than you and maybe spiritually beyond us, too – socially, they are. They’re pretty awesome.”
The following is a collection of photographs and videos of Ken during his adult lifetime of studying whales. If you have a picture of Ken that you would like to share, please send it to us.
Ken Balcomb remembered


All photographs and videos Copyright © 2022 Center for Whale Research. 

Hard at work and play