A team of whale watchers has perfected the art off the coast from Port Angeles, Washington. Ken Balcomb, who has been a leader of the Orca Survey for 45 years in the Pacific Northwest, has been observing the Southern resident killer whales of Puget Sound.
Balcomb, who was 35 years old at the time, was working for the National Marine Fishery Service. He was tasked to count the number of whales left after the increase in killing whales for marine parks.
Balcomb stated to Michelle Miller of CBS News that "a lot of people didn’t believe we could find them." "And then even my boss didn’t believe if they found them, we could distinguish them."
Photo-id technology was pioneered in Canada by a marine biologist. This made it possible to accomplish the impossible task. This turned Balcomb's many thousands of photos into an extensive scientific database.
"At that time, we had photographs, thirty-five-millimeter pictures. Balcomb stated that this was a key.
What were the results of the survey? The survey results?
Balcomb's findings could help to end the trade of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest. The orca's problems with man-made causes didn't end there.
Balcomb stated that "in the late 1980s, whales stopped following their regular patterns and they weren't coming to Puget Sound two times a month anymore. It was fished out."
The whales are still suffering from a depleting food supply, which severely hinders their ability of reproduction.
Balcomb stated, "This is our indicator," an advance indicator, and the kind of thing that the canary in a coal mine looks like. "If humans lose the ball in the wild nature, they won't last very long."
Balcomb created the non-profit Center for Whale Research in response to what he had already seen. The Center for Whale Research is a place for whale research and conservation.
Balcomb stated that orca sightings in the same waters were common decades ago. Orcas have been in the area for thousands years. However, it is difficult to find one orca now as they rarely appear.
Balcomb is trying to change this sad situation, not at sea but 8 miles upstream, near the Olympic National Park edge.
Balcomb's operation is a vital part of the Elwha River, which is also essential for orcas.
He said, "It's going bring salmon back into a pristine state where there'll plenty of food for the whales."
Miller asked, "What happened to the salmon?" asked Miller.
Balcomb stated, "Well, on that river, it was dammed." "So, there was a dam two miles south of us. And no fish passed that dam for over 100 years." The Chinook Salmon population dropped from around 30,000 to nearly zero per year.
Congress approved the 1992 removal of Elwha Dam to restore the river's ecology. Two decades of planning culminated in the removal of the Elwha Dam, which was completed by March 2012 after being fully demolished.
This is now, after the dams have been taken down, that this ecosystem is beginning to recover. We want to celebrate this and let the world know that it's possible to recover the ecosystem, Balcomb said.
He went one step further. His Center for Whale Research, which he founded in October 2020 at 80 years old and without a job, purchased a ranch of 45 acres on both sides of the river. This ranch is where most of the Chinook Salmon spawn. The purchase was funded by a private donor who contributed $7,000
The area has seen salmon return. Balcomb estimates that it will take between 20 and 25 years for salmon to return to their original numbers. Last year, there were 7,000 Chinook salmon in the area. The few fish that have been spotted so far are a sign there is hope.
"Oh, this looks like they're back. Balcomb said that nature is returning. It's like that. It's well worth it. You know that money doesn't matter. He said that it does.