The humpback whale has made a comeback once again! This fall, the Pacific Whale Watch Association announced an unprecedented humpback whale baby boom in the Salish Sea. The start of the season is known to mark the final peak of humpback whale sightings as they look for their last feeding opportunities before heading south for the winter—and the end of October brought with it a pleasant surprise for west coast whale watchers.
This year, 21 humpback whale calves were recorded throughout inland Washington and British Columbia from April to October. This sets a record for the highest annual number of humpback whales in the area ever, according to Mark Malleson, a field biologist with the Center for Whale Research. The number has close to doubled in the Salish region this year as compared to the 11 documented humpback whale calves in 2020’s peak season. Researchers can only hypothesize about the cause of the recent boom.
“We’re not sure why there were so many calves this year,” says Erin Gless, the executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association in a recent news release. “It’s possible the last two years had an abundance of food for the whales, or it could be as simple as the fact that as the number of adult whales in the population grows, so too does the number of calves we can expect to see each year.”
The association notes that the species did see a drastic depletion in the early 1900s from commercial whaling. By the 1920s, the North American west coast had few humpback whale sightings. And according to the latest Periodic Status Review from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the number of global humpback whales had decreased by more than 90 per cent. It was only until the termination of whaling that the global number of humpbacks was able to slowly climb to more than 80,000. Currently, the Pacific Whale Watch Association confirms that there are more than 500 humpback whales recorded in the Salish Sea.
This year’s abundance of humpback calves is great news, given the many human activities that still affect the species’ livelihood. The WDFW recognizes entanglement, vessel collisions, increased disturbance of marine noise and communication, climate change, oil spills, and harmful algal blooms as the leading threats to humpback populations going forward. Despite these environmental conditions, the humpback whale calves spotted this season have nodded to a hopeful and fruitful future for marine life in the North American Pacific.