A black and white photo of a man with dark hair and beard

Ken Balcomb set up the Center for Whale Research in 1985

The life and work of Ken Balcomb, who founded the Center for Whale Research (CWR), has been recognised with a posthumous honorary degree from the University of Exeter.

Balcomb, who died in 2022, set up Orca Survey in 1976 and CWR in 1985, and dedicated himself to research and conservation of the “Southern Resident” killer whales off North America’s west coast.

The honorary degree ceremony was held at Seattle Aquarium on Monday 8th April.

At the event, Balcomb’s work – and ongoing research into this critically endangered whale population – was discussed by Exeter’s Professor Darren Croft.

Professor Lisa Roberts, Exeter’s President and Vice-Chancellor, hosted the event, which celebrated a critical partnership between Exeter and the CWR.

Ken Balcomb and Darren Croft. Credit Victoria Gill

“I am delighted that Ken’s lifetime contribution to science has been recognised with this award,” said Professor Croft, a behavioural ecologist who was recently appointed executive director of CWR.

“Ken’s studies and research on the Southern Resident killer whales (SRKWs) fundamentally changed our understanding of killer whale behaviour and ecology.

“For nearly 50 years, he led the Center for Whale Research’s long-term study of the SRKWs, and the data he leaves behind will continue to be a foundation for killer whale researchers for generations to come.”

Professor Roberts said: “Ken Balcomb was a stellar researcher and a pioneer of ocean science, and we were delighted and privileged that he wrote to us to accept his award in 2017.

“Sadly, Ken was not able to travel to Exeter to attend his graduation ceremony during his lifetime.

“So we made the unique decision to travel to Seattle, in order to honour Ken’s extraordinary achievements with his family and friends.”