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article imageWhale watchers: Humpbacks returning to Salish Sea in big numbers

By Marcus Hondro     Nov 18, 2015 in Science
This may be the year of the humpback as one of the world's largest whales is being seen in record numbers in the West Coast's Salish Sea. Whale watchers and marine biologists regularly record sightings of new whales and humpbacks are topping the list.
Salish Sea whales
The breathtakingly beautiful Salish Sea is a large body of coastal waterways in southwestern B.C. and northwestern Washington State that includes the Straight of Georgia, Straight of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound. The numbers of Humpbacks seen in these waters were in decline for many years due to whaling and toxins in the water and foods they consumed.
This year the numbers of the massive cetaceans, which can grow up to 52 feet in length and weigh up to 80,000 pounds, are on the rise again.
"We’ve seen more humpbacks this year than ever and they’re popping up now everywhere," Capt. Mark Malleson, a captain for Prince of Whales Whale Watching and a whale researcher since 1997 told media. "In the San Juan Islands, Georgia Strait, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Haro Strait, Rosario Strait, Saanich Inlet.
"(They are) repopulating the areas where they were once abundant pre-whaling. It's a very exciting time out there now."
Humpback returns
Capt. Malleson told a Vancouver Province reporter, Cheryl Chan, that "new animals are showing up every year" and he called the phenomena "amazing," enthusing that he is "privileged to see the return of them."
One of the new Humpbacks who had never been seen in the area before is a 40-ton male called Gnarly by Malleson and others. That's because the big fellow has a peculiar tail fin likely damaged in its life before moving through Salish waters. Since his arrival, Gnarly has been photographed by many.
As Chan reports, the population of Humpbacks was down as low as 1,500 when whaling ended in the mid-1960s. Now? In the North Pacific, their numbers are estimated to be as high as 21,000.
There is a resurgence of whales overall in Salish waters. The three resident Orca pods that make the waters their home, J, L and K pod, have had five births since late December and the calves are doing well. There is also an increase in transient Orcas (Killer whales) in B.C. and Washington State waters.
As Chek TV reports, the humpbacks are passing through as they travel from "their summer feeding grounds in Alaska to the warm waters of Hawaii, Mexico and Central America to breed and have calves." The Humpbacks will pass through the area again as they make their way back to Alaska.
More about whale watching, whales in salish sea, Humpback whales
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