Record 21 humpback calves spotted in Salish Sea over feeding season as whale numbers rebound

Authored by and submitted by headtailgrep

A record number of humpback whale calves have been spotted in the Salish Sea off the coast of British Columbia and Washington state this summer and fall, researchers say.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) says 21 calves have been photographed or tallied by watchers and researchers in the Salish Sea this feeding season. That's almost double the 11 spotted in 2020.

It marks a significant rebound for a species that was endangered just a couple of decades ago.

Nobody is sure exactly why there's been such a humpback baby boom.

PWWA executive director Erin Gless says it might be due to an abundance of food in their feeding grounds off Alaska and B.C.'s north coast, or simply an increase in adult whales since whaling was banned in the 1970s.

"It was apparently a very successful breeding season," said Gless.

The tail of a female humpback and her female calf are seen near Victoria earlier this year. (Pacific Whale Watch Association)

Humpbacks are Gless's favourite whale, despite what she calls the general "orca-centric" focus of the West Coast.

"They have really recovered quite nicely — this is a real treat for me to see all these little babies swimming around," she said.

"Twenty-five years ago here off of inland B.C. waters we had zero humpback whales, so this is a new phenomenon in our waters ... they've made up for lost time. We are seeing lots and lots of whales, which is super exciting."

In a news release, Mark Malleson of the Washington-based Center for Whale Research said 21 calves is the highest annual number on record for the region.

About 500 individual humpbacks whales have been documented in recent years in the Salish Sea.

A male calf called Malachite surfaces in the Salish Sea during this year's feeding season. ( Ashley Keegan/Wild Whales Vancouver)

According to Gless, the first documented humpback to return to the Salish Sea area after commercial whaling was halted was known as Big Mama. She was spotted in 1997, then returned in 2003 with a calf.

Researchers have monitored the return of humpbacks to the area ever since, Gless said.

Humpbacks generally appear in the Salish Sea starting in late spring after calving in southern seas.

They head further north to feed over summer. An adult humpback eats about 900 kilograms of fish and krill daily.

The whales then return south along the coast in the fall, heading for breeding grounds near Hawaii or Mexico and Central America for the winter.

There can be up to about 200 whales in the Salish Sea on any given day during their migration, according to Gless.

A humpback whale named ZigZag and her calf near Vancouver. (Ashley Keegan/Wild Whales Vancouver)

Researchers name all the whales, including the calves.

But Gless said they often wait until calves make it through their first year, as the first 12 months are the most perilous time for juveniles, which are often targeted by their main predator, the killer whale.

Relative_Count6087 on October 23rd, 2021 at 04:34 UTC »

Man, I fucking love whales. They're my favorite animals. If you ever get a chance to go whale watching, do. It's good for the whales because it pays for the marine biologists aboard the boats with you to go out and check on them and track their activity and movements, and it's nice to have scientific and conservation efforts pay for themselves like that.

xander5512 on October 23rd, 2021 at 00:16 UTC »

Seen hundreds of them in the SS over my lifetime. Numbers have always seemed to be going up. They are actually kinda a bummer if you are trolling for salmon, once a pod rolls through everything runs for it life.

YoStikky777 on October 22nd, 2021 at 23:11 UTC »

We went on a dolphin viewing boat tour in Florida this last spring and the tour guide said they had more baby dolphins now than they have seen throughout their careers combined. Glad the pandemic benefited some living things.