Some of the first instances known as whale “muggings” have been reported in the Salish Sea on the B.C. coast.
Muggings, as they’re labeled by the whale-watching industry, are interactions which whales initiate with vessels or its passengers.
In this case, the instances involved juvenile humpbacks, brought on by their sometimes social and curious demeanours.
Muggings have become more common as humpbacks become more populous and more accustomed to seeing vessels in these waters.
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Before the reported incidents, the executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, Michael Harris, had been unaware of any instances of humpback whales befriending vessels since the 1980’s.
He has been working in the Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia since then and believes the whales “must sense this is a safe place to be.”
Instances of mugging typically feature the whale rolling on its back or side next to the boat and peering at the passengers.
They usually last from 15 minutes to two hours, and the captain is usually left with no choice but to idle the vessel, or turn off the engine and await the whale’s departure.
Upwards of 2,000 threatened humpbacks are believed to feed in B.C. waters before leaving for Hawaii or Mexico for the winter. The total population is about 20,000 in the North Pacific.
Canadian laws forbid people from disturbing marine animals, and whale-watch guidelines encourage boats to remain at least 100 metres away from a whale.
Wild Whales Vancouver witnessed approximately 10 muggings this season in the southern Strait of Georgia, prominently near Galiano Island. It is believed each incident involved one of two juvenile humpbacks, ages three to five (traveling separately).
Andrea Hardaker, the manager of Wild Whales Vancouver, just wants to make sure the whales don’t get too comfortable.
When whales get used to interacting with vessels, as in the case of a juvenile killer whale on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the results can be deadly. If the whales approach a ferry or tugboat, they may be struck and killed.
For now, the whale watching agencies aim to steer clear of any whales known to get up close and personal with vessels, but many of the passengers aboard when muggings occurred credit them as the experience of a lifetime.