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Nowadays, we have more than 400 individual humpback whales reported in the Salish Sea. However, just about three decades back nobody would have believed you if you had told them you had seen a humpback whale. But how come?

Let’s take a dive back in history: The year 1866 marks the beginning of industrialized whaling in British Columbia. Humpback whales were hunted for their blubber, which was used to produce oil products. In the early 1900s, almost the whole humpback population was wiped out and by the time the last whaling station in B.C. closed in 1967 more than 30 000 humpbacks were killed. For most of the 20th century, humpback whales stayed clear of the Salish Sea, thought to be never found again around Victoria.

Luckily, a few decades after the whaling stopped, there was a humpback comeback to the area. The shining star in this is a whale called “Big Mama”, classified as BCY0324. She was the first one to be spotted back in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1997 and throughout the years she brought back 7 calves, the first born in 2003 and the last in 2022, who ventured off to start families of their own. By now she has six grandcalves and two great-grandcalves, who all make their way back to the area every summer. 

Big Mama, as well as other humpbacks, spends her winters around Hawaii and Mexico for breeding – usually humpbacks give birth to one calf every 2 to 3 years – and migrates to the Strait of Georgia in the Salish Sea in summer using it as a feeding ground. Over the years, more humpbacks followed her lead and the number of recorded individuals increased by now from 293 in 2017 to more than 400.

Among others, Big Mama and Divot – her oldest calf – have already been reported back in B.C. waters in 2024, leaving us with some great sightings including Divot’s brand new curious calf. 

  • References & further reading:
  • Murray, A. (2015, July 2). Anne Murray: Big Mama and the return of the humpback whales to the Salish Sea. The Georgia Straight. https://www.straight.com/news/474361/anne-murray-big-mama-and-return-humpback-whales-salish-sea
  • Kloster, D. (2024, April 24). First humpback mom and calf return to Salish Sea. Times Colonist. https://www.timescolonist.com/local-news/first-humpback-mom-and-calf-return-to-salish-sea-8647608
  • Sekhon, K. (2020, December 9). Humpback whales in the Salish Sea – Nature Vancouver. https://naturevancouver.ca/humpback-whales-in-the-salish-sea/
  • Lechner, J. (2022, September 28). June 29th 10:30 AM – Big Mama + Calf + T036A’s — Vancouver Island Whale Watch – Nanaimo BC. Vancouver Island Whale Watch – Nanaimo BC. https://www.vancouverislandwhalewatch.com/recent-sightings/2022/7/3/29th-1030-big-mama-calf-t36as
  • News Staff Oak Bay. (2024, April 24). PHOTOS: Victoria whale watchers document first baby humpback of 2024. Victoria News. https://www.vicnews.com/local-news/photos-victoria-whale-watchers-document-first-baby-humpback-of-2024-7349048
  • Thayaparan, A. (2023, June 11). Why have there been more whale sightings in B.C.’s waters? CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/humpback-whale-comeback-1.6869329
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