In what researchers are calling a “humpback comeback,” hundreds of the whales have been spotted in the Salish Sea around Vancouver Island and off the coast of Washington state.
Over 20 years ago, a single humpback whale was spotted in the region. Now more than 500 individual whales have been documented.
Researchers say the reason for the resurgence is simple: the end of commercial humpback hunting.
“They were hunted mostly for their blubber, which we use to make oil products back then and by 1910, there were zero humpback whales left in these inland waterways,” Erin Gless of the Pacific Whale Watch Association said.
“In the 1960s and 1970s is when those protective acts really went into place, there’s no more commercial hunting of humpback whales. Once that threat passed, they were able to recover, so it just goes to show you that once you do actually protect that species, they can rebound.
“It’s a great inspiration for other species that are facing similar threats.”
Among those returning is a humpback dubbed Big Mama, whom whale watchers spotted travelling with her first calf back in 2003.
Three of Big Mama’s calves, named Split Fin, Tulip, and Pop Tart were spotted feeding within a few hundred metres of each other in waters off Port Angeles, Wash., last Saturday.
The discovery has garnered the interest of researchers, who say it’s relatively rare to see siblings so close together.
“Humpback whales, as far as we know, they don’t have close family bonds,” Gless said. “They’re usually only with their mom for a year and then they go their separate ways.
“It really makes you think, do they know that they are brothers and sisters? Are they communicating? Do they have that connection? It made a few more questions come to the forefront.”
Gless said with more of the sea mammals in the water, it’s important for boaters to be careful.
“As you may have heard before, ‘If you see a blow, go slow,'” Gless said.
“If you’re out there on the water, look for those spouts. That’s going to tell you that there are whales in the area.”
Gless said boaters should stay at least 100 metres from whales and travel at a safe speed.