Killer Whale Researcher wins Salish Sea Science prize

  • Tue Feb 17th, 2009 11:33pm
  • News

Killer whale research-er Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research is the first recipient of the Salish Sea Science Prize, a $2,000 cash award given to recognize a scientist whose work has resulted in the improved conservation of marine wildlife and the Salish Sea marine ecosystem.

The first and only award of its kind, the Salish Sea Science Prize will be bestowed biennially by the SeaDoc Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the Salish Sea ecosystem. The award is given in recognition of, and to honor the spirit of the late Stephanie Wagner, who loved the region and its wildlife.

Balcomb was selected from among many worthy individuals and groups nominated for the Prize. Collaborating with Canadian colleagues, Balcomb pioneered the use of photo identification to study and individually identify killer whales and has conducted an annual census of the southern resident killer whales since 1975.

Balcomb’s annual census was the basis of the population assessments that ultimately lead to the Canadian and US listing of the southern resident killer whale community as endangered. His work served as a foundation for our understanding of resident killer whale longevity, toxics loading in killer whales, and the implications of disease on the long-term viability of this population. Other findings stemming from Balcomb’s work included facts that today are understood by scientists and school kids alike: killer whales can be individually identified; Salish Sea killer whales belonged to 2 ecotypes – fish eaters and marine mammal eaters; and resident fish eating whales have a non-dispersing matrilineal society.

“Ken’s life work has been scientifically rigorous and has fundamentally changed the way we think about killer whales and marine wildlife. He really epitomizes the intent of the award,” said Joe Gaydos, Regional Director of the SeaDoc Society which sponsors the award. Gaydos commented, “We’re going to need a lot more science like this as we work to design a healthy Salish Sea.”

Both Canada and the US are working to restore the Salish Sea, a name often used to refer the 17,000 km2 bi-national marine ecosystem that includes Washington State’s Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands as well as British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia. The name recognizes and pays tribute to the first inhabitants of the region, the Coast Salish. The award was given Sunday night at the opening ceremony of the Puget Sound Georgia Basin Ecosystem Conference in Seattle, Washington where over 800 scientists and policy makers have gathered to collectively work on improving the health of this ecosystem.

The SeaDoc Society ( works to ensure the health of marine wildlife and their ecosystems through science and education. A program of the Wildlife Health Center at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), the SeaDoc Society has a regional focus on improving the health of the Salish Sea.