The Salish Sea had a record number of sightings for Bigg’s killer whales and humpback whales in 2022, according to researchers.
Bigg’s killer whales and humpback whales were the most frequently spotted whale species in the Salish Sea in 2022, with the Bigg’s whales being seen 278 days and humpback 274 days.
Gray whales were seen on 200 days, and minke whales on 158 days. According to the Pacific Whale Watch Association, southern resident killer whales were rarely seen by whale researchers and the species remains endangered.
There were 1,221 unique sightings of Bigg’s whales, which is 154 higher than the previous record set in 2021 and double the number in 2017.
A single-day record was also set in 2022 with more than 70 Bigg’s whales sightings in the waters from Hood Canal in Washington to Campbell River.
The population of Bigg’s whales also continues to grow, with approximately 370 whales with 10 new calves born in 2022.
“When Bigg’s were first studied in the Salish Sea, it was just after the implementation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act,” says Monika Wieland Shields, director of Orca Behavior Institute. “In the decades since, seals, sea lions, and porpoises have all recovered in spectacular fashion. The Salish Sea can now support many more killer whales than it used to, and clearly word has spread.”
The Canadian Pacific Humpback Collaboration says 396 individual humpback whales were photographed in the Salish Sea in 2022, which is the highest number in a single year in the past century. This includes 34 mothers who travelled with calves from the birthing grounds in Hawaii, Mexico and Central America.
The previous record for calves in one year was 21 humpback calves in 2021.
“2022 was a memorable year full of record sightings and dozens of new calves,” says Erin Gless, Executive Director of the PWWA. “20 years ago, it was rare to see humpbacks or Bigg’s killer whales in the Salish Sea. Now, we see them almost every day. It really demonstrates what’s possible if animals have an ample food supply.”