The Development of Orca Survey

In 1976, Ken Balcomb was contracted by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service to photo identify and ascertain the population size of killer whales off the Washington coast. This contract was the result of a decade of live captures that had occurred in the Greater Puget Sound waters. The contracted study formed the foundation of Orca Survey. Towards the end of 1976, Ken Balcomb accomplished his contract goal and determined that the population size remaining in the Greater Puget Sound area was 68-71 individuals, mostly adults.

Orca Survey has continued independently since 1976 with funding from various sources, including Earthwatch since 1987. The goal of Orca Survey is still to annually photo-inventory the population for the purpose of determining individual life histories and calculating vital parameters like birth rate, death rate, etc, of the Southern Resident Community of orcas.

Recently, Orca Survey has been widely acclaimed as a model of success for benign studies of free-ranging cetaceans. Photo-identification has yielded detailed life history information about virtually every individual killer whale in the population for over two decades. Other data collected provides information on behavior, social structure, population dynamics, and interaction with boaters.

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