Humpback whale found dead on Haida Gwaii beach

A humpback whale known as Kayak, seen on a Haida Gwaii beach on Saturday, May 15, 2021. Josina Davis via the Marine Education & Research Society

A B.C. research and conservation group says a young humpback whale was found dead on a Haida Gwaii beach on Saturday.

The Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) said the female whale, known as Kayak or BCX0977, was believed to be about 18 years old when she died.

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She was found on a beach near the mouth of the Tlell River on the east side of the largest island in the archipelago off B.C.’s north coast, the group said.

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“We want to share her story to aid thinking of whales as individuals,” the organization said in a Facebook post.

“Sightings of Kayak go back to 2004. She was older than a year then as she was not with a mother and calves stay with their mothers for a year. When we first saw her in 2007, our observation was that she was small / young.”

Over that time, Kayak — nicknamed for distinctive markings on one of her flukes that resembles a person in a kayak — has been sighted around northeast Vancouver Island, southeast Alaska, the Salish Sea, the central coast and southwest Vancouver Island, according to MERS.

The group said it was unknown if she migrated to Mexico or Hawaii, and that she was not known to have ever had a calf.

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“We don’t know life expectancy for Humpbacks off our coast as they have not been studied long enough as individuals. It is estimated that they can likely live to at least age 80 … thereby, age 18 is not when a Humpback would be expected to die.”

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According to federal estimates, there are about 18,000 humpback whales in the North Pacific population.

The population was listed as threatened for decades and re-listed as a species of special concern under the Species At Risk Act in 2011.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said it had responded to the site and had taken samples in order to try and determine the whale’s cause of death.

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