WATCH: There’s a dramatic change in the Salish Sea as the resident killer whale population is absent while humpback whales are seen in unprecedented numbers. April Lawrence reports.
A whale watching group, returning from three hours in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, is thrilled with what they saw.
“We saw a pod of killer whales first, it was a mom and two calves and the brother, it was huge which was amazing,” said Lisa Harrison, who is visiting from Sydney, Australia.
The killer whales are from resident population J-Pod — an unusual sighting this summer.
“It’s been abnormal, normally this time of year most of the clan if not all the clan are in the area moving back and forth throughout the Juan de Fuca and back in,” said Mark Malleson, guide with Prince of Whales Whale Watching.
Nobody’s quite sure where the resident orcas have gone.
“All we know is that they’re not here, we hope they’re finding lots of fish, wherever they are,” said naturalist and Prince of Whales guide Rhonda Reidy.
Stealing the show from the resident killer whales this summer is the incredible number of humpback whales.
“We’ve had an abundance of humpbacks this year, it’s the best year I’ve seen in 20 seasons,” said Malleson.
The North Pacific humpback whale was nearly wiped out by commercial whaling, but since it was banned in the 1960’s they’ve been making a “humpback comeback”.
“We are now seeing not just one, two, three we are seeing 10, 15, 20 humpbacks and not spread out, we’re seeing them all within a quarter mile,” said Reidy.
Experts say they’re here to fatten up before they head south to breed but what exactly they’re eating here is still unclear.
While Reidy embarks on a PhD study to try to answer that she says there is little question, the resurgence of the humpback and the absence of the southern resident killer whales, is linked.
“The killer whales are eating salmon and the humpback whales may be eating food that is valuable to salmon,” she said.
“I think what we’re seeing this year is a very dramatic change in the distribution of prey for the animals that we see on a regular basis.”
One thing we do know is that those heading out to catch a glimpse of the magnificent mammals are in for a wild show.