The non-profit group, Keta Coastal Conservation, launched a research trip to cover the Salish Sea from Nanaimo to north of Campbell River and it was packed with sightings of the massive whales. Loading excited whale watchers onto his Nanaimo-based boat on Monday, Rodrigo Menezes hoped to offer up some of the epic experiences with humpback whales that a team of researchers just encountered. “I just love these animals,” said Menezes, a tour guide with Vancouver Island Whale Watch. “So it was quite impressive and exciting to see,” he said. Over the weekend, Keta Coastal Conservation gathered evidence of the humpback comeback in the waters off the east coast of Vancouver Island. Fifty years after whaling brought the species near extinction, whales are returning in waves. Researchers with the non-profit photographed and catalogued whales between Nanaimo and the Northern Gulf Islands. “And you’re driving along for hours and hours and then finally someone yells blow,” said Keta spokesperson Natalie Reichenbacher. “You can see it off in the distance and everyone gets really excited.”Their trip captured 18 whales in all. Several that have never been seen here before including whales now nicknamed Exclamation, Wilkinson and Nagini. “A couple haven’t been previously documented by scientists before,” said Riechenbacher. Keta said the massive whales were busy feeding and surfacing in their once traditional feeding grounds. “We also got to see some mom and calf pairs,” said Reichenbacher. “So the mom showing the calf how to feed and get some pounds on before their migration down south,” said Reichenbacher. The humpbacks will soon begin their massive swim to the waters of Hawaii and Mexico before returning in the spring. When whale watchers will eagerly wait to see if they bring even more whales back with them.