Remembering Ken Balcomb| Guest Column

by Howard Garrett

Board of Directors, Center for Whale Research

Ken Balcomb, the Center for Whale Research’s founder, respected orca researcher, and my beloved brother passed on December 15, 2022. Ken and I shared a fascination and passion for whales, leading us to lifelong careers in the field. As a result, we were fortunate to spend considerable time together during our adult lives.

The past few months have been tough, witnessing the end of a very significant life. At the same time, being by his side are moments that I will always cherish. Ken and I spent endless hours talking, laughing, and reminiscing. We also strategized and talked a lot about the future.

Ken started his orca population census, ORCA SURVEY, in 1976—46 years ago. During these past five decades, he and his Center for Whale Research team made numerous discoveries that changed how we view orcas and our understanding of these magnificent creatures. It is with great pride to share that ORCA SURVEY is the longest continuous study of any marine mammal on earth.

My brother was a true trailblazer. Yet Ken quickly reminded me that he had worked alongside many skilled and dedicated people during his orca-research lifetime. He repeatedly emphasized his Center for Whale Research team, expressing his admiration and confidence in their ability to carry the organization’s research, education, conservation, and advocacy initiatives in the years ahead.

Ken’s wish—stated many times—was for his life’s work to continue for over 100 years, greater than the lifetime of a single Southern Resident Killer Whale and greater than the lifetime of one researcher. The Center for Whale Research’s Board of Directors and staff made a promise to him to fulfill his wish. Ken’s handpicked, experienced, and committed team will carry Ken’s vision forward and lead the Center for Whale Research’s essential work into the future. We hope that you will continue to support Ken’s and our vision. He recognized the critical role that you—our financial supporters—play for the Center for Whale Research to achieve its current and long-term goals for the benefit of the Southern Resident orcas.

December is a time of year when we celebrate with family, friends, and colleagues. We will do likewise while also grieving the loss of an irreplaceable human being. We will celebrate Kenneth C. Balcomb III—a man who gave all he had. He made the world aware of the Southern Resident orcas: who they were, their struggles, when they needed our help, why we shouldn’t give up on them, and what they need to survive. He stood up for and spoke out even when his message was unpopular. We celebrate Ken’s achievements, his legacy and promise to continue his work.