Things are looking up in the waters between B.C. and Washington state with a record-breaking year for whales and protective interventions among whale-watching professionals.
The Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA), a group made up of ecotourism professionals from 30 companies, reports record-breaking numbers of Bigg’s killer whales and humpbacks spotted in the waters last year.
In 2022, Bigg’s killer whales and humpback whales were reported by crews on 278 days and 274 days, respectively, according to a PWWA recap of the year. Gray whales were spotted 200 days and minke whales on 158 days last year. While the salmon-eating southern resident killer whale population remains endangered and is rarely encountered by professional whale watchers, Bigg’s killer whales feed on marine mammals and have been increasing steadily for the past decade.
A jump in documented humpback whales – 396 individuals documented including 34 mothers and their first-year calves – in the area last year has been dubbed a “humpback comeback” by those in the businesses of preservation. In 2017, 293 humpbacks were documented in the same area, signalling continued progress in the Salish Sea ecosystem.
PWWA also collects data on what it calls sentinel actions, or protective interventions by crews during a wildlife tour. The agency cites examples such as stopping other vessels from speeding near whales, alerting ferries, cargo ships or military vessels when whales are nearby, retrieving harmful debris and reporting entangled or injured wildlife.
Last year there were 1,066 documented sentinel actions. Of 740 vessel-related actions, the PWWA reports changed behaviour 74 per cent of the time. Crews also removed 300 pieces of marine debris and reported 20 injured or entangled marine mammals to local rescue teams. Additionally, the PWWA provided real-time whale sightings to emergency responders during the recovery of the sunken vessel Aleutian Isle near San Juan Island last summer.
Visit pacificwhalewatchassociation.com for more on the association.
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