Researchers from the Pacific Whale Watch Association spotted an unprecedented number of humpback whales in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It used to be very rare to see a humpback in this area but now groups of 15 and 20 are seen feeding daily, especially off Port Angeles and Victoria.

“It’s humpback heaven out there right now,” points out Pacific Whale Watch Association’s executive director Michael Harris. “About 20 years ago or so, we never saw humpback whales out there. The last three or four years, our crews started to see them all the time. Now we’re seeing them congregate in these large groups, not unlike what you might see in Hawaii or Alaska. One humpie after another, just an expanse of whales filling the seascape.”

Apparently, the whales are rolling at the surface, vocalizing and feeding on tons of unidentified food.  The research team does not know what brought the whales here. However, some have speculated that they may be after the abundant resources of local salmon and herring in the area.

humpback whales

humpback whale. Credit: NOAA/Wikimedia

Rhonda Reidy, a marine educator and a captain of one of the boats used by Prince of Whales whale-watching tours, believes that the unexpected increase in humpbacks could signal changes in oceanographic and ecological conditions that could affect local ecology. Whales usually migrate each spring from Hawaii, Mexico and Central America to Alaska.

The animals were on the brink of extinction, thanks to the extensive commercial whale hunting in the early 20th century. In 1966, only 1,600 humpbacks remained in the eastern North Pacific but scientists estimate that since the whale hunting ban, their population exploded to more than 21,000. Overall, there are 85,000 humpback whales worldwide.

Reidy will conduct a study that will investigate the cause and consequences of this unusual occurrence. The marine educator is expected to collaborate with University of Victoria.