1,067 unique sightings: 2021 marked a huge year for whales in BC

Jan 12 2022, 1:17 am

After years of decline due to dwindling numbers of Chinook salmon in the Fraser River, last year marked a record-breaking year for unique sightings of whales in BC and the Pacific Northwest in the Salish Sea.

Bigg’s orcas and humpback whales made up a majority of the sightings, followed by grey whales and minke whales.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) said there were 1,067 unique sightings of Bigg’s killer whales over 329 days in 2021. The association calls it a banner year.

The previous record was 747 unique sightings in 2019.

Professional whale watchers, regional sightings groups, and shore-based observers helped contribute to the record-breaking number.

New Biggā€™s orca calf T124A7. Photo: Karac Lindsay, Eagle Wing Tours, PWWA

It’s huge news for conservation organizations, environmental activists, and the PWWA, who have all fought for better protection for whales in BC.

“It has been incredible to witness the continued rise of Biggā€™s killer whales in the Salish Sea,” said Monika Wieland Shields, director of the Orca Behaviour Institute on San Juan Island, who confirmed the record-breaking number.

According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Bigg’s killer whale population is growing at a rate of more than 4% per year. Eleven new calves were born in 2021.

Justine Buckmaster, Puget Sound Express, PWWA

PWWA operators undertook a series of “sentinel actions” during 2021 ecotours. Some of those actions included stopping speeding vessels, signalling whale activity to ferries and cargo ships in the vicinity, removing harmful marine debris, and educating boaters on proper viewing distances.

Tyson Reed, Island Adventures Whale Watching, PWWA

The PWWA was successful in 70% of its interventions.

Amir AliAmir Ali

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