Everyone loves a good whale sighting!
In 2022, a record number of Bigg’s killer whales (orcas) and humpback whales were spotted in the waters surrounding Victoria as well as south along Washington’s border.
According to the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA), this bodes well for the efforts being made to improve the Salish Sea’s ecosystem.
The PWWA says Bigg’s killer whales were seen on 278 days in the Salish Sea and humpback whales were able to be seen on 274 days throughout the year.
Gray whales also showed themselves to onlookers 200 days in 2022 while the lesser known minke whales were seen on 158 occasions.
The PWWA says that the endangered Southern Resident killer whales were shy last year but given that their main food source is salmon, they can be a bit more reclusive. Bigg’s orcas feed on mammals such as seals and sea lions so their hunting grounds and their hunts become very public when they’re near the shores of Victoria.
According to the Orca Behavior Institute (OBI), there were 1,221 unique sightings of Bigg’s killer whales in 2022, meaning a specific group of whales was seen and repeat sightings of the same group are not recorded.
The single day record for most sightings was 70 in one day and the whales were seen from Campbell River all the way down to Hood Canal, Washington.
The Bigg’s orcas numbers are believed to be steadily growing with a total known population of 370 in 2023, with 10 calves being born last year.
“When Bigg’s were first studied in the Salish Sea, it was just after the implementation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act,” says Monika Wieland Shields, Director of OBI.
“In the decades since, seals, sea lions, and porpoises have all recovered in spectacular fashion. The Salish Sea can now support many more killer whales than it used to, and clearly word has spread.”
In 2022, humpback whales have also been growing in numbers with a total of 496 individuals being photographed throughout the year.
The PWWA says that this number includes 34 mothers with their calves who made the journey from their birthing grounds in the tropical waters of Hawaii, Mexico and Central America up to the coast of BC.
This is a record setting number as compared to the previous record of 21 mothers with their calves traversing the Pacific to come to BC.
“2022 was a memorable year full of record sightings and dozens of new calves,” says Erin Gless, Executive Director of the PWWA.
“20 years ago, it was rare to see humpbacks or Bigg’s killer whales in the Salish Sea. Now, we see them almost every day. It really demonstrates what’s possible if animals have an ample food supply.”
In 2022, there were also a record number of “sentinel actions,” which are actions taken to protect whales when they are known to be present. This includes actions such as stopping ships from speeding near whales, alerting ferries, cargo ships and military vessels when whales are nearby, retrieving harmful debris like derelict fishing gear and balloons from the water, and reporting entangled or injured wildlife to proper authorities.
There were 1,066 sentinel actions taken last year and of those 740 were vessel related. The PWWA also reported that over 300 pieces of debris were removed from the Salish Sea as a form of sentinel action.
All these efforts will aid whale populations in growing and will help to garner a better habitat for the animals to live in.