The Center for Whale Research

The Center for Whale Research was founded to promote and conduct benign studies on populations of whales, dolphins and porpoises, and to report factual results of these studies to governments, organizations and individuals for the purpose of conserving these remarkable marine animals for future generations.

In 1976, Orca Survey was launched as a census to determine the status of the Southern Resident Killer Whales. Orca Survey is a long-term photo-identification study of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the San Juan Island area of the Pacific Northwest. It was initiated by Principal Investigator Ken Balcomb in 1976 (under contract to the National Marine Fisheries Service) to ascertain the size of the population of Killer whales in the Greater Puget Sound environs of Washington State.

Thirty years later, the Center for Whale Research continues to maintain the only continuous and comprehensive photo-identification study of the Pacific Northwest's most charismatic mega-fauna, the Southern resident Killer whales (SRKW).

The study continues under the direction of the Ken Balcomb, with funding from various sources, to annually photo-inventory the population for the purpose of learning individual life histories and calculating vital parameters (birth/death rates, etc.) of the population in this intensively utilized marine habitat.

The survey has been widely acclaimed as a model of success for benign studies of cetaceans using photo-identification methods, and it has yielded detailed information about virtually every individual killer whale in the population, as well as the social structure, dynamics, and status of the population.

For example, in 2006 the data collected by the Center for Whale Research was used by the U.S. Federal Government to justify listing the SRKW population as an Endangered Species, ensuring improved protection of the fragile population into the future.

The continuance of this research is of exceptional importance for the future management of activities within the Greater Puget Sound ecosystem as it is increasingly utilized, exploited, and affected by those activities.

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