Hundreds of thousands come to Victoria to see the whales.

Victoria is unique. It’s the entry and exit point to the Salish Sea, leaving two passes at any animals coming in from the Pacific.

And people travel from all over the world to watch whales with front row seats to the humpback comeback.

“I’m happy to report that whale watching around southern Vancouver Island, where Victoria is the hub, has never been better. There are more whales than ever before,” said Dan Kukat, owner of Springtide Whale Watching and Vice President of the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

The industry brings millions into Victoria’s economy. $400 million USD is brought in through whale watching across the Pacific Northwest.

But this year has been difficult.

“There’s no question there was a downturn in business, industry-wide. There’s probably somewhere between a 10 and 20 per cent drop in business,” said Kukat.

“The awkward dissemination of the rule changes from the federal government this year has hurt business.”

The industry blames the hit on the federal changes to how close commercial boats can get to whales. Another obstacle continues to be the shrinking southern resident orca population

“Unless they get more food, they will continue their decline,” said Kukat.

Southern resident killer whales feed primarily on chinook salmon, whose numbers are on a historic low and the resident orca numbers are suffering.

And with their businesses so closely tied to the populations of the whales they’re chasing, the industry is actually working on chinook salmon revival programs.

“If we can continue to enhance and prop up the bottom of the food chain, the top will handle itself,” said Kukat who is leading a project on the Sooke River.

 

Kori Sidaway