Record number of humpback whale calves found off B.C.: researchers
Humpback whales are thriving in the waters of southern British Columbia and northern Washington state, according to naturalists.
Researchers at the U.S.-based Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) and the Center for Whale Research say a record number of humpback calves were identified in the Salish Sea in 2021.
A total of 21 new calves have been photographed and documented in the inland waters of B.C. and Washington, according to the groups.
That's the most new calves ever recorded in the region in a single season -- nearly twice as many as were reported in 2020, when 11 calves were documented, according to Mark Malleson of the Center for Whale Research.
“2021 has been a banner year for female humpbacks coming into the Salish Sea with new calves,” says Wendi Robinson, a naturalist with the Washington-based Puget Sound Express whale-watching group.
“Calves only travel with mom for a year or so and then they’re on their own. Once they’re familiar with our waters, they will often return year after year to feed.”
According to researchers, the fall is peak season for humpback activity off B.C. as the whales take advantage of their last feeding opportunities before heading south for the winter.
In the coming months, Salish Sea humpback whales will swim to their breeding grounds near Hawaii, Mexico, and Central America to mate and give birth before returning with their calves in late spring.
A humpback known as "Spit Fluke" was recently spotted near Victoria with her new female calf.
“The calf started things off with a few tail slaps, which mom then joined in on,” says Val Shore, a naturalist with Eagle Wing Tours in Victoria.
Split Fluke, born in 2006 to "Heather," has been matched through photographs to winter breeding grounds near Mexico, according to researchers.
Her new calf, not yet named, is her third calf and represents a third generation of Salish Sea humpback whales, according to the PWWA.
Similarly, a naturalist for Anacortes, Wash.-based Island Adventures Whale Watching was doing seasonal work in Hawaii in March when she spotted a humpback whale with a youngster in tow.
The naturalist was able to identify the whale as “Dreamer," a 10-year-old humpback that has been photographed in recent years feeding near Victoria and the B.C. Gulf Islands during the summer, according to the association.
Dreamer and her young calf were seen this week by PWWA naturalists in the Strait of Georgia.
“Our community was excited to receive the March report from Hawaii,” said Erin Gless, executive director of the association, in a statement Friday. “We’re thrilled to say that both mom and baby have arrived safely in the Salish Sea.”
Researchers say they don't know exactly why humpbacks experienced a baby boom in 2021, but an abundance of food or a natural fluctuation in the number of adult whales could be to blame.
"It could be as simple as the fact that as the number of adult whales in the population grows, so too does the number of calves we can expect to see each year,” Gless said.