Record number of orca, humpback whales spotted in Salish Sea

It was a record-breaking yr for orca and humpback whale sightings within the Salish Sea final yr, in line with a whale-watching operator in B.C. and Washington.

The year-end information put collectively by the Pacific Whale Watch Affiliation (PWWA) and native researchers confirmed extra Bigg’s killer and humpback whales visited the waters surrounding the southern tip of Vancouver Island, and into Washington, than ever earlier than. Additionally they reported a child growth that specialists are hoping will preserve the whale inhabitants.

“It was only a actually nice yr so far as sightings go. Whales, mainly each single day,” mentioned Erin Gless, the director of PWWA.

“We have got the Bigg’s killer whales and we have additionally acquired the humpback whales, and each of them are simply exploding off the charts.”

There have been 1,067 distinctive sightings of Bigg’s killer whales final yr — up from the earlier document set in 2019 of 747. They had been additionally seen throughout 329 days of the yr, or simply over 90 per cent of 2021. 

Humpback whales had been seen 301 days of the yr. 

Gless says a sighting is assessed because the remark of 1 specific group of whales all through a given day.

“It is not only one individual calling in a sighting a few group of whales after which one other individual from throughout the best way calling in the identical one,” she mentioned. 

“Once we’re speaking about greater than a thousand sightings, you are speaking about greater than a thousand totally different teams of whales all year long. So actually, actually phenomenal.”

Final yr additionally noticed the start of 11 child Bigg’s killer whales and 21 humpback whale calves.

Abundance of meals

What appears to be bringing the whales to the area is the abundance of meals, in line with Monika Wieland Shields, the director of the Orca Habits Institute.

“Phrase appears to be spreading about how nice the Salish Sea is, for those who’re a Bigg’s killer whale,” she mentioned. 

“There’s rather a lot for them to feast on right here. We have now considerable harbour seals and sea lions, harbour porpoise and people make up the vast majority of their weight loss program. And so we have seen this regular improve over the past 10 years of how a lot they’re using the realm. And it simply looks as if extra whales are spending extra time right here every year and making the most of that considerable meals supply.”

Gless mentioned for the reason that looking of marine mammals comparable to seals and sea lions was banned within the Seventies, the inhabitants has recovered, attracting predators just like the Bigg’s killer whales again to the area. 

However Wieland Shields says it is a totally different story for the endangered Southern Resident whales — the opposite principal killer whale discovered within the area — as their sightings dropped to a document low final yr. The salmon-eating mammals had been documented on simply 103 days, or 28 per cent of the yr.

“The rise of the Bigg’s killer whale … and the return of humpback whales to the area are all actually optimistic tales that mirror a wholesome and recovering ecosystem,” she mentioned. 

“However on the similar time, the decline of the Southern Residents displays the decline of a few of the salmon runs within the space and part of the ecosystem that is not doing as properly. So we actually have these two totally different tales taking part in out concurrently right here.”

Nonetheless, the return of Bigg’s killer whales and humpback whales could also be excellent news for the Southern Residents, mentioned Wieland Shields, as they may assist management the seal and sea lion populations. 

“Seals and sea lions eat lots of various things, however they do eat salmon. And in some areas, they might be a contributing issue to some salmon runs which might be struggling to recuperate,” she mentioned. 

“There could also be a meals internet impact there, the place the Bigg’s killer whales serving to management the seal and sea lion populations really assist salmon in the end recuperate for the Southern Residents.”

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