Humpback whale population is growing in recent years.

Humpback whale population is growing in recent years.

BY THE BAY: Humpback whales making comeback

Population on rebound, decades after being nearly wiped out, writes columnist Anne Murray.

Spouts of spray against a blue sky, the arch of a dark back and the flip of giant tail flukes as a humpback whale dives deep into the water: a thrilling sight that is becoming more common in local waters.

Humpback populations are on the rebound, 100 years after they were killed off by the whaling industry. It is a most encouraging sign that nature can heal, if given space and time.

B.C. waters have a very rich diversity of marine mammals, including whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions and two species of otter. Their presence as larger members of the food chain ensures that the ecosystem can function.

Sea otters, for example, play a vital role in maintaining west coast kelp forests, by eating sea urchins that otherwise overgraze the plants. In protecting the kelp habitat, otters also allow other animals, such as abalone, starfish and fish to survive.

By playing this keystone role in the food chain, otters make a significant impact on carbon sequestration by kelp forests.

Similarly, transient orcas are predators that feed on seals and porpoises, regulating numbers of these fish-consuming animals. More transients are being seen, and their hunting groups are somewhat larger, reflecting the good foraging opportunities.

Conversely, the resident orca population are endangered, as chinook salmon, their principle food source, have seriously declined.

Humpback whales were once common in local waters. In the early 1900s, steamship whaling using explosive harpoons extirpated humpbacks from the B.C. coast, killing 95 within the Georgia Strait.

No whales were seen for decades.

In the 1990s, a few humpbacks ventured into the Juan de Fuca Strait, and then suddenly from 2003 onwards, more began to arrive each year, as the North Pacific population rebounded.

Humpbacks make long migrations, travelling to cool northern seas in summer to feed on krill and small schooling fish. Females brought their calves into the Salish Sea and these young animals independently returned, once grown to adulthood.

Now, humpbacks are being regularly seen around Vancouver Island and the southern Gulf Islands, and are beginning to make their way into the Georgia Strait. Their impact on the local ecosystem should be positive, as they reclaim their place in the food chain.

Sperm whales, another krill-eater, fertilize the sea with their droppings, significantly increasing phytoplankton and consequently extracting carbon from the atmosphere.

Only time will tell what effect humpbacks will have on local waters.

Anne Murray,  the author of two nature books, writes monthly in the Peace Arch News – www.natureguidesbc.com

Just Posted

People were lined up around the fields at a drop-in vaccine clinic at Newton Athletic Park on Tuesday (April 27, 2021), which is one of the high-transmission neighbourhoods that are being given vaccine priority. This clinic was one of at least three to open in the city on Tuesday. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Surrey’s weekly cases continue to drop, push for 80% vaccination rate citywide

BCCDC reports 263 cases for Surrey the week of May 30 to June 5

Fleetwood Park Secondary School’s 2021 commencement ceremonies were held over the course of two days, June 10 and 11. Grads went through a small, distanced ceremony in groups of four, with up to four members of the grad’s household. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Surrey’s 2021 grads find creative ways to celebrate in another year of COVID-19

This year’s Grade 12 students were unable to have any large-scale events

Friends of Bear Creek Park held a ‘yellow-ribbon event’ on Saturday (June 12, 2021), with protesters at 84th Avenue and King George Boulevard and 84th Avenue and 140th Street. People were asked to tie a yellow ribbon in their yard “to celebrate and to show support for our trees in Bear Creek Park.” (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Protesters hold ‘yellow-ribbon’ event at Surrey’s Bear Creek Park

People asked to tie a yellow ribbon in their yard to ‘show support for our trees’

All nine White Rock Renegades softball teams are set to take part in the Canadian Pride and Power Tournament, scheduled for July 1-4. (Aaron Hinks photo)
White Rock Renegades set to host multi-team Pride and Power softball tournament

‘There’s going to be a lot of excitement in the park,’ said Greg Timm

The Lower Mainland Green Team and students from Earl Marriott Secondary remove invasive plants from White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park. (Contributed photo)
Green Team returns to White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park to monitor previous work

Environmental volunteers, South Surrey students remove invasive species

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Most Read