A two-year-old humpback whale found dead near the coast of Bamfield appears to have died as a direct result of a propeller strike, preliminary necropsy results show.
The whale, named Halfpipe by monitoring organizations, was found July 8 after a fishing charter reported a dead whale floating near Cape Beale, south of Bamfield, said Paul Cottrell of the Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s Marine Mammal Response Unit.
The Bamfield Coast Guard then attended the area on July 9, secured the whale and transported it for a necropsy.
“When we first came on scene, it was quite a sad view that we had where we could see that this animal was impacted on the head and along the body by a large, what appeared to be, propeller,” said Cottrell.
Preliminary results from the necropsy showed the whale’s broken jaw and nine large lacerations spaced one to two feet apart along its body, he said. These lacerations are indicators that the whale was likely struck by a large propeller on a large vessel.
The area where Halfpipe was struck — a place where whales regularly come to feed — is a thoroughfare for cargo ships and tankers, the Marine Education Research Society said in a Facebook post on Monday.
“This area is recognized critical habitat for the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orca) and threatened Northern Resident Killer Whales. It is also an area where large aggregations of Humpbacks feed on late spring to fall each year,” MERS said.
The organization, which promotes marine conservation, said Halfpipe migrated to the region from Mexico and that his population is recognized as threatened by the United States.
“May knowing Halfpipe’s name and lineage help compel more mariners to learn about the whales’ behaviour and ways for vessels to reduce the risk of collision,” MERS said. “Because, if the presumption is that large baleen whales like Humpbacks know where boats are and that they can/will move out of the way, there will be many more deaths.”
The DFO said the ship that may have hit the animal is not known at this time, but the whale appeared to be in good health otherwise.
“We don’t know the vessel at this point but I think it’s really important we document why this animal died and best as we can work backward to determine what’s happened,” said Cottrell.
Cottrell said roughly up to two such vessel strikes on humpbacks are reported per year, but many likely go unreported.
MERS is hoping Halfpipe’s death will help educate boat operators and reduce the number of ship strikes.