Written by: Sophie Beshr, Naturalist
Now that we are in our peak whale watching season it is such a privilege to see our North Pacific Humpbacks returning to the Salish Sea. In recent years, their population has been thriving but that wasn’t always the case.
Humpback Whales used to be hunted for their oil, meat and baleen. In the mid 1800s at least 100 humpbacks were hunted and killed right out of the Strait of Georgia and Queen Charlotte Strait. Later on between 1908 and 1967, an estimate of 5,618 humpbacks were harvested by five whaling stations along the coast. After being eradicated for almost 100 years they are beginning to return in larger numbers coast – wide. The Salish Sea being one of them.
With them returning to our seas there are a few factors we need to be aware of. These magnificent large animals eat as much as 250,000 to 320,000 tonnes of krill, fish such as herring and sardines. This creates competition for other animals in our area such as salmon, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions who prey on the same resources. Since there are a high volume of commercial and recreational vessels out and about in the Salish Sea, this will create potential for more boat strikes and entanglement with debris or commercial fishing gear for the humpbacks. We all need to play our part in helping out our humpbacks by doing our research and bringing up the idea of new conservation efforts revolving around ship-strikes as well as the recognition that our ecosystem may change from the result of the return of these large consumers.
With that being said, in the months coming it is becoming peak season to see our lovely humpbacks. They travel great distances every year and have the longest migration out of any animal on this planet. In the winter time, our North Pacific Humpbacks prefer warm shallow waters to give birth to their calves. That’s why they have chosen Hawaii for their breeding spot. As it begins to get to our summer months they start their journey to the feeding grounds with their newborns. These Feeding grounds include, Aleutian Islands/ Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, Southeast Alaska, and northern British Columbia. The cycle continues after that.
If you get the chance to see humpbacks on your tour, just remember what they have been through and really appreciate the comeback these amazing creatures have been able to do.
Book your tour with Orca Spirit to have the opportunity to view these magnificent creatures in the wild!