A rare second chance is how Jackie Hildering sees the growing number of humpback whales sighted recently around British Columbia waters, and in the Comox/Campbell River area.
Hildering, the education director and humpback researcher for the Marine Education & Research Society (MERS), said their numbers show 85 humpbacks have been documented at some time in 2018 in the Comox/Campbell River area, 16 of which were also sighted around northeastern Vancouver Island.
MERS is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting conservation and understanding of marine ecosystems through scientific research and environmental education.
In a report released by the society Tuesday, numbers have increased from just seven individuals documented in northeastern Vancouver Island to 79 in 2018.
“In a world where we hear about so much loss, we get a second chance with these winged giants,” she said.
While the increase in humpbacks in the area is good, noted Hildering, she cautions it comes with concern as boat traffic in the area has increased significantly.
She said it is essential that boaters are aware of how to avoid collisions and what do to – and not do – if entanglement is witnessed.
Humpbacks are much more unpredictable than orcas which many boaters are accustomed to.
“Humpbacks are generally unaware of boats, and they do sometimes approach them. The best thing to do is to move away,” Hildering explained.
“Many boaters are conditioned to be aware of orcas – they’re like big dolphins and move along the surface of the water. Humpbacks do not have bio-sonar and dive much longer. They can suddenly appear at the surface; many people assume they move in a certain direction. Humpbacks are astonishingly oblivious of boats.”
One of the campaigns the society is undertaking is directed at boaters: See A Blow Go Slow. She added more boater awareness is needed.
In terms of sightings, Hildering noted she credits partners and the public for creating a collaborative approach in calculating humpback sightings. She suggests people who spot a humpback to take a photo to display as much of the fins and tail as possible.
“It can be extraordinarily easy or extraordinarily difficult to ID a humpback. It really depends on the distinguishing features.”
If they can see both dorsal fins and tails, it is possible to identify the humpback’s birth years and mother.