‘Humpback Comeback’ continues with more new calves this spring

'Humpback Comeback' continues with more new calves this spring

The last whaling station in BC closed in 1967 but it took another 30 years to see another humpback whale in the Georgia Strait.

“The whale watch community saw the first humpback whale return in 1997. That was a humpback whale that we named Big Mama because she’s had a least 7 babies. She’s doing her part to bring humpbacks back to this area,” said Erin Gless, Executive Director, Pacific Whale Watch Association.

There were 396 humpbacks counted in the Georgia Strait last year and the “humpback comeback,” as it’s known, continues with the sighting of at least three new calves this spring.

One of them is now the grandchild of Big Mama.

Among the new moms are BCY0523 “Graze”, BCX1675 “Strike”, and BCY1404 “Poptart”.

Both Graze and Strike also gave birth to calves in 2019 and 2021, but this is the first calf for Poptart, who was born in 2016 to beloved Salish Sea humpback BCY0324 “Big Mama”.

As a youngster, Poptart was often seen breaching completely out of the water, reminding whale watchers of the popular breakfast pastry popping out of a toaster. The name stuck, and Poptart has since become one of the most well-known humpback whales in the region.

“We’re starting to see our humpback whale moms and their babies return for the season,” added Gless. “So these moms gave birth in places like Hawaii and Mexico and it took a couple of months to make that crossing with little ones in tow but we’re very excited that we’re starting to see some of those babies show up here in the Salish Sea.”

And they’re already very big. About the size of a car.

“They look very, very tiny next to mom but mom’s the size of a bus so compared to her everything looks small,” said Gless.

They’ll spend about six months here before heading back to warmer waters.

So why do they come to Vancouver Island? Unlike Southern Resident Orcas that are struggling because their food source, salmon, is dwindling, there is lots of food for humpbacks.

“They feed on krill, those tiny little shrimp-like organisms. They feed on lots of different bait fish and so they seem to have enough food right now and because of that they’re thriving,” Gless said.

Researchers like Jackie Hildering said we have a second chance with humpbacks whales in our waters.

“In their absence I think boaters have forgotten how different large baleen whales are compared to ocra that have bio sonar so they’re here, they’re hungry. They have unpredictable behavior but so do boaters,” said Hildering.

She said if you see a blow go slow or birds on the water could mean feed and whales below.

“We need to realize that one could surface at any time, could be resting right below the surface, could be nursing right below the surface,” she added.

Last year was a record breaking year with 34 calves, so there are likely more than the three seen so far this year.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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