2016 Season Final Sightings Report and Highlights.

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©Five Star Whale Watching/ Andrew Lees. A Humpback Whale breaches in the Salish Sea. Humpback Whales have been showing clear signs of population growth within the last decade and through 2016.

Season Trends and Sightings:

Welcome to our 2016 Highlights! This year we were so fortunate to encounter a diversity and high frequency of marine mammals, plus other Salish Sea wildlife. The beginning of the season saw both observed populations (ecotypes) of Killer Whales (Biggs’ and Southern Resident). We also had encounters with Minke Whales and even a Gray Whale! Overall, 2016 presented a mix of trends in Salish Sea wildlife. Although we did witness both Biggs’ (transient) and Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW’s), we recorded a significant change within the population of the latter. This change was a decrease in sightings of SRKW’s and a literal reduction of their population, with several members becoming heartbreakingly deceased in 2016 (J28, J34). Regarding the other commonly seen ecotype of Killer Whales (Biggs’), we were thrilled to see their numbers reach record levels, as their population continues to rise and thrive. 

Humpback Comeback:

Let’s not forget about our important Humpback Whales, who like the Biggs’ orcas, have been growing in population numbers steadily. We have clear evidence from this year that the “Humpback Comeback” is in full swing. We observed overwhelming numbers of new and recurring Humpback Whales visiting these areas all through the season as their population slowly recovers from near-extinction from the mid-20th century. Big Mama and Split Fin are just a few recognized individuals that have become familiar, as they continue to migrate seasonally to the Salish Sea. With clear evidence of Humpbacks doing lots of feeding (we observed a number of them “Lunge-feeding”), it is clear they have become successful once again in these waters. Some of our trips saw magnificent behaviours from these leviathans, such as high-energy breaching and other activity. 

Overview and Special Encounters:

In addition to the familiar species listed above, a less common encounter allowed us to spot a Fin Whale! These are massive Baleen whales that are observed to visit the Salish Sea only rarely. On another tour, a rare Brown Pelican even made an appearance. We appreciate encountering all of these important species, large or small! Some of our most memorable points of the season included witnessing a SRKW Superpod, spending beautiful sunset evenings with Killer Whales and even encountering a rare Biggs’ pod of Killer Whales. This pod is rarely seen travelling in these waters. The season saw a great number of tours including both Killer Whales and Humpback Whale encounters. The conclusion of our season through the fall months saw a great deal of active Humpback Whales and Bigg’s Killer Whales, in addition to a few select encounters with SKRW’s. This season taught us a great deal about the trends now changing in the Salish Sea and how crucial it is to protect the thriving animals on our coast while encouraging the restoration of others, such as the SRKW’s.

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