Over the past 10 years, humpback whales have made a big comeback in British Columbia waters. Not only are humpbacks returning in larger numbers, but they’re staying longer too.
Their growing numbers into these waters is likely due to an increase in food for them around the South and North Coast. They feed on krill and small schooling fish like herring and sandlance.
BCY0291 “KC” near Campbell River, BC. Photo by Andy Scheffler.
They were a once threatened species because the historical effects of whaling had made a huge impact on these whales’ populations. humpback whales were commercially hunted from the early to mid-1900s in BC. Between 1905 and 1967, multiple whaling stations along our coast had processed approximately 25,000 whales. Whalers from the Coal Harbour station in Northern Vancouver Island especially targeted humpback whales until it was banned in 1967.
Their status has been down-listed to a species of “Special Concern” by The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) due to the increase in the population.
There are now anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 humpbacks in BC waters, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
BCY1021 “Neptune” breaching. Photo by Andy Scheffler.
These past few years alone have seen numbers increase in in-shore waters. Numbers not seen before. These animals show strong site fidelity when it comes to the areas they return to each summer here in BC. When they are calves with their mothers, they only spend one year together. In that one year, the calf must learn the migration route, and how to hunt for their food. Often we’ll see the same individuals returning to the same feeding grounds along our coast every year.
It’s a message of hope, and represents the efforts of those who dedicate their lives to protecting them through awareness and education.
More and more people are taking to the waters recreationally and commercially. With the increasing number of humpback whales in British Columbia each year, we all must do our part to ensure safety on the water for both whales and boat operators. To avoid collision with a whale, follow the Be Whale Wise guidelines, and remember, if you see a blow, go slow!