Orca community mourns death of legendary Washington whale researcher

Orca community mourns death of legendary Washington whale researcher

Condolences and memories overflow a pioneer and legend of the whale world.

The Center for Whale Research announced the death of founder and longtime director Ken Balcomb in a web post Dec. 15.

Balcomb, 82, was surrounded by friends and family in his final hours.

A scientist with a deep love and connection to cetaceans and their ocean habitat, Balcomb has spent nearly 50 years in cetacean research and advocacy. He inspired others to appreciate both as much as he did, the Center for Whale Research said in its post — a claim supported in the flood of condolences.

“I’ve known Ken since I was very young. He inspired me to live out my love for orcas and to join the fight for the killer whales of the south when I got older. He was a grandfather to orcas and always kept them entertained despite the challenges the orcas face,” read a post.

Balcomb has spent much of his career documenting the lives of the southern resident orca population in the Salish Sea. His groundbreaking orca survey study found that resident orcas need more food in a healthy habitat to survive.

For more than four decades, Balcomb’s Washington state nonprofit Center for Whale Research has conducted an annual photo-identification study of the killer whale population of the southern Salish Sea. It provides unprecedented basic information on population dynamics and demographics, health, social structure and individual life histories of these orcas.

With the announcement of his death, the board and employees acknowledge Balcomb’s life’s work.

“Ken’s goal has always been for CWR’s research to continue for 150 years, assuming there are cetaceans to study. All of us at CWR share Ken’s vision and mission to conserve and protect the magnificent killer whales of the South. He often said of endangered southerners, ‘I’m not going to count them to zero, at least not quietly.’”

Share your condolences online at whaleresearch.com.

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