Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are traveling through the Salish Sea according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) as they migrate from their summer feeding grounds in Alaska to the warm waters of Hawaii, Mexico and Central America to breed and birth calves.
These massive creatures – once hunted out in local waters – are continuing to resurface in record numbers here, increasingly taking an inside passage through local waterways as they make their way south. And as always, they’re providing whale watchers a spectacular show.
Photo by Captain James Mead - Maya Legacy Whale Watching - San Juan Islands
The resurgent humpbacks are also giving environmentalists, researchers and marine mammal scientists an up-close look at an extraordinary conservation success story.
“The discovery curve with these humpbacks is still pretty steep,” explains Capt. Mark Malleson, veteran whale watch captain for Prince of Whales Whale Watching who also contributes research to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Center for Whale Research, and Cascadia Research Collective. “We’ve seen more humpbacks this year than ever, and they’re popping up now everywhere, in the San Juan Islands, Georgia Strait, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Haro Strait, Rosario Strait, Saanich Inlet – repopulating the areas where they were once abundant pre-whaling. Very exciting time out there now.”
A humpback whale surfaces off Victoria, BC.
Photo by Naturalist Valerie Shore, Eagle Wing Tours, Victoria.
Photo by Mika Ogilvie MSc Eagle Wing Tours
“This is encouraging for conservationists to continue their work because it demonstrates that positive results can occur,” explains Anna Hall, PhD, Science Advisor to PWWA. “The humpbacks are coming back from the brink of extinction. We’re extremely fortunate to have them here.”
This past spring, after a five-year review, NOAA Fisheries proposed to delist most populations of humpbacks, including the ones we see in these waters. Researchers believe there are more than 21,000 humpbacks now in the eastern North Pacific, up from about 1,500 when whale hunting was banned in 1966, and as many as 85,000 worldwide. These animals, which can reach 50 feet and 40 tons, visit the Salish Sea to feed before continuing their migration south.
Photo by Andrew Lees - Five Star Whale Watching
“Whaling went away and the whales came back. The ‘Humpback Comeback’ continues,” explained Michael Harris, Executive Director of PWWA, representing 36 operators in BC and Washington. “For many of us, this is our favorite time of year for whale watching. We’ve still got lots of resident and transient orcas out there, minke whales, dolphins and porpoises, even an extremely rare fin whale. But there’s nothing like getting out on the water on a quiet autumn day and hanging with the humpies.”
HOW TO HELP: For all those who want to help the whales, become a Member of The Center for Whale Research. The Pacific Whale Watch Association is proud to be a longtime supporter of Ken Balcomb and his team. Help them help the whales.