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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey students donate 2,000 pairs of socks

Initiative part of the Leo Club program

Surrey hosts grand-opening ceremony of North Surrey arena complex

‘Accessible’ facility features three sheets of ice

Lord Tweedsmuir tops Tamanawis in all-cat fight for Surrey RCMP Classic title

Panthers’ Jaeden Reid was named MVP at all-Surrey boys tournament

Trade to hometown team a ‘blessing in disguise’ for Surrey Eagles defenceman

Kieran O’Hearn gets to play in front of family, who live just minutes from South Surrey Arena

White Rock solid waste open house scheduled

Event to take place next month

After cashing in on QB gambles, Chiefs and 49ers to clash in Super Bowl

KC beats Tennessee, San Francisco dispatches Green Bay to reach NFL title game

VIDEO: SPCA and RCMP remove several animals, including pig, at private animal rescue in Langley

Home at 5500 block of 216th Street has undergone multiple seizures over the past five years

B.C. VIEWS: Few clouds on Horgan’s horizon

Horgan’s biggest challenge in the remainder of his term will be to keep the economy humming along

Victoria family focuses on ‘letting go, enjoying time together’ after dad gets dementia

Walter Strauss has developed an interest in music and now takes line dancing classes

B.C. forest industry grasps for hope amid seven-month strike, shutdowns, changes

Some experts say this could be worse for forestry than the 2008 financial crisis

Northern B.C. RCMP investigating alleged sexual assault in downtown Smithers

One person was transported by ambulance to hospital following RCMP investigation at Sedaz

Vancouver police probe second homicide in less than 24 hours

Woman was found dead in her Gastown home

UBC, Iranian-Canadian community create memorial scholarship in honour of victims

The Jan. 8 crash killed 176 people, including 57 Canadians

Most Read

l -->