Humpback Whales in the Salish Sea were one of the most hunted species in the area, due to their abundance and tendency to swim close to shore. In 1907, steam-powered boats and explosive harpoons caused Humpbacks to become locally extinct within a couple of years. Humpback Whales were not seen in the Salish Sea for nearly a hundred years, until the late 1990’s.
The first Humpback Whale out of the returning group that was photographically identified was a large female scientifically known as BCY0324, or more colloquially known as “Big Mama”. Since 2003, she has been seen in the Salish Sea every summer. This year, she has returned with yet another calf – the sixth she has been seen with in the area. She is hailed as the forefront of what is now known as the “Humpback Comeback”.
Since the ban of commercial whaling in 1965, Humpback Whale populations in the North Pacific have experienced a fantastic comeback. The current population estimate is around 22,000 individuals, up from 1,500 in 1965. Of these, 130 individuals have been using the inland waters around Vancouver Island. These whales are drawn to the area to feed on krill, herring, and pilchard.
SpringTide’s Dan Kukat says,”This highlights the miraculous population comeback that can be achieved in nature when there is sufficient food for these animals to feed on and grow. This further highlights the necessity to increase Chinook [salmon] abundance, the primary prey species for the Endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales”