Marine-life advocates are mourning the loss of Kenneth C. Balcomb, founder and longtime leader of the Center for Whale Research (CWR).
Balcomb died early Thursday morning at Big Salmon Ranch above the Elwha River, south of Victoria, and was surrounded by loved ones, according to family. He was 82.
“Ken was a pioneer and legend in the whale world. But more importantly, he was the North Star, a guiding light,” the CWR, a Washington state-based non-profit dedicated to whale conservation, said in a statement.
“Over half a century of whale research and advocacy, he lit a path for tens of thousands to follow. He was a scientist with a deep-rooted love and connection to the whales and their ocean habitat. He inspired others to appreciate both as much as he did.”
A Navy man, Balcomb spent much of his career documenting the southern resident orca population in the Salish Sea. In 1976, he published the Orca Survey which determined the species needed more food to survive and, about 10 years later, continued his advocacy by founding the CWR in 1985.
Balcomb was “one of a kind,” the Orca Network, another non-profit, noted in a statement.
“He knew what he wanted to do, and did it, in his unique way. He spent the majority of his life getting to know and understand the southern resident orcas and fighting passionately on their behalf,” the network said, calling Balcomb a brother, friend and esteemed colleague.
“Ken’s interest in and love of animals and whales has resulted in countless thousands of fans who are advocates for the fragile populations of salmon and orcas, largely due to Ken’s knowledge and work, his passion, and his commitment,” it said.
Although he’s gone, his legacy remains.
The CWR says its board of directors and staff are forging on and preserving Balcomb’s vision and mission, adding, “He often said about the critically endangered southern residents: ‘I’m not going to count them to zero, at least not quietly.’
“Thank you, Ken,” it said. “We will carry you in our hearts forever.”
Read Balcomb’s bio here.