Bellingham, Washington – An unprecedented number of humpback whales, are reaching the Pacific Northwest, from Bellingham to British Columbia, this summer, according to reports from researchers and crews with whale-watching boats.

Commercial whaling left humpback whales on the brink of extinction, and they were no longer spotted in the area since 20 years ago, Michael Harris, executive director of Pacific Whale Watch Association, said, according to Associated Press. However, during the last years, researchers reported sights of the distinctively shaped whale, and this summer the number has increased to groups up to 15 or 20 specimens together in the Salish Sea. “It’s humpback heaven out there right now,” Harris added.

Humpback whale breaching near the coast. Credit: Wikipedia

Researchers report that they migrate from Hawaii, Mexico and Central America to Alaska. Because of hunters, they have changed their route by taking an inside passage through waterways to go to the north in spring. When in the Salish Sea, they stay there for a while before continuing the migration. It is known that during spring, humpbacks migrate to north polar waters to feed, and to southern tropical waters to breed and give birth in the fall.

Ecological conditions could be responsible for the increasing presence of humpbacks

The reasons behind the increased sights of the specimen could be mainly for survival instinct and not an increasing of the population. Conditions in the ocean and the ecosystem could be affecting the food chain, forcing whales to look for food mostly in southern waters, Rhonda Reidy, captain for Prince of Whales Whale Watching in Victoria, British Columbia said, according to The Bellingham Herald.

Though humpbacks feed on krill, or small fishes, such as sardine or anchovy, researchers do not know exactly what they feed on while in the British Columbia and Washington waters. “But the high degree of foraging flexibility may be why humpback whales are doing so well,” Reidy said.

Humpback whales are known for their breaching, pectoral slapping, and vocalization above water, with the male producing a song that could last up to 20 minutes, and repeat it for hours. This peculiar behavior is especially striking for whale watchers and researchers.

Scientists think that there are about 85,000 humpbacks worldwide, with over 21,000 of them in the eastern North Pacific. Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia calculates that about 1,600 whales are currently feeding off the west coast of North America, and about 500 specifically in Washington and British Columbia.

From 1905 to 1966, commercial whaling was legal in British Columbia, decreasing the humpback whale population a 90%. In 1966, a moratorium was stated. Through the years, the species has recovered, and since the mid-1990s the whales started to return to the Salish Sea.

Source: The Bellingham Herald