Whale Watching in Puget Sound: See Orcas, Seals, Eagles and More Aboard a Whale Watch Boat

Visitors to the Puget Sound region can book whale and wildlife watching cruises from several communities in British Columbia and Washington State. Though there are many variances between operators, there some similarities as well.

Type of Boats and Amenities on Board

Whale and wildlife tour companies use every kind of water craft imaginable, including small, open boats, kayaks and inflatables. However, the majority of the operators use stable, all-weather boats that can carry ten to thirty passengers. Most boats are heated, have comfortable seating, and a head (toilet) on board.

What Can Participants Expect to See During Whale Watch Cruises?

Resident pods of orca whales frequent Puget Sound from Seattle north through the Inside Passage. These animals are well-known to whale watch operators, and often appear in fairly predictable locations. Seals, porpoises, and sea lions are frequently spotted, as are eagles, herons, deer, and a variety of waterfowl including loons and puffins. In addition to orca whales, minke, gray, and humpback whales are sometimes seen.

Naturalists on Board

Whale watch naturalists make the trips enjoyable and informative. Naturalists help passengers spot wildlife, provide information about the geology, biology, and botany of the region, and answer questions.

Duration of a Whale Watch Cruise

Most operators offer day cruises that vary in length from 4 to 6 hours. Most cruises depart either mid-morning or early afternoon and return to port by late afternoon. Departure times are fixed, but return times are approximate due to the distances traveled, weather conditions, and the presence of wildlife.

What Does a Cruise Cost?

Costs vary, but most cruises run between $60 to $80 dollars US for adults, with discounts for children. Some operators also offer discounts to large groups who book in advance. This year, due to rising fuel prices, many companies are adding a fuel surcharge of $2 to $4 to ticket prices.

Children on Board

For safety and the comfort of other passengers, some whale watch operators prohibit children under the age of six, while others welcome families with young children. Generally, whale watch boats are comfortable, but confined, and without child-focused entertainment or food service, so parents need to determine whether this activity is appropriate for their child’s age and activity needs.

How to Find a Whale Watch Operator

In the US whale watch businesses operate from the US mainland, the Olympic Peninsula and the San Juan Islands. In Canada tours leave from Victoria, Vancouver, and several of the Gulf Islands. To find a cruise in the US, begin by visiting the GoNorthwest web site. In Canada by going to the British Columbia web site.

Humpback Whale Facts – Megaptera novaeangliae: Discover the Feeding Methods and Behaviour of These Baleen Whales

Whales along with dolphins and porpoises belong to the order Cetacea. The order is divided into two suborders:

  1. Suborder odontoceti, or toothed whales – dolphins, sperm whales and porpoises
  2. Suborder mysticeti, or baleen whales – rorquals (the largest group of baleen whales), right whales and gray whales

Humpback whales fall under the suborder mysticeti, or baleen whales. They are a blue-black color with some paler areas along the underside, white-edged flippers and a large tail that it slaps against the water’s surface. They are capable of swimming at 27km per hour and can blow a mist of water from their blowholes up to 3 meters high.

Brief Overview of the Humpback Whale

The humpback whale has prominent knobs on its muzzle and their anterior (front) limbs are modified into flippers and most have a dorsal fin and tail flukes. Their dorsal fins, which can be swelled into humps by fat deposits, are often visible on the surface of the water when the whales come up for air.

Flippers are used to swim, protect calves and in surface displays. Humpback whales have the longest pectoral fin of all the whales and it is almost a third as long as their body length. Nostrils are in the form of single or double blowholes on the top of the head and no hair can be seen apart from a few bristles around the muzzle. Upon exhalation it can spray mist up to 3 meters in the air.

Humpback whales can dive to 200 meters depth and stay submerged for up to 30 minutes. They are able to travel at up to 27km per hour if necessary, however, normal traveling speeds are between 4-14km per hour.

Stranded Whale Blown Up With Explosives off the Coast of W.A.

In late August 2010, a 12-tonne, 9.5-metre humpback whale became stranded 800m from shore in the Princess Harbor Albany, Australia. The terminally ill whale had barely moved since it became stranded two weeks prior, and managing director for the Whale Research Center in W.A. said that while it was unpleasant, for the sake of the animal, it needed to be euthanized.

Because of the whale’s massive size, putting it out of its misery with firearms was not an option, so wildlife officers positioned several explosives around the whale, which they then detonated.

An increasing number of whales are becoming stranded along the Western Australian coast, believed to be due to population growth. For other reasons why whales become stranded, read Why do Whales Beach Themselves.

 

Whale Euthanized in Jurien Bay, Australia

This is not the first time explosives have been used to euthanize a beached whale. In 2008, a 10-metre, 15-tonne juvenile humpback whale became stranded in the shallow waters of Jurien Bay, Western Australia. When the animal’s condition worsened, environmental officers detonated explosives near its brain to euthanize it.

Disposing of Whale Carcasses by Blowing Them Up

The Oregon Department of Transportation used explosives to try and dispose of a whale carcass back in 1970. While the incident happened years ago, an embellished version occasionally pops up in email form, sometimes shocking readers who believe it to be current news. In addition to inboxes, the story also resurfaces occasionally in newspapers and other print media and even on television.

During the incident, a 3-by-5-foot piece of blubber flew through the air and landed on, and crushed a Buick. This aspect is more than likely what makes the story seem unbelievable and considered an ‘urban legend’ but it did actually happen.

The real story is that the 8-tonne, 45-foot long sperm whale washed up in the Pacific Ocean south of Florence, and as the body decomposed, it stunk up the beach. The Oregon Highway Division decided to dispose of the body by blowing it up, believing that the seagulls would eat the remainders. They realized that burying the carcass would not work long term as the tide would soon uncover it.

The plan didn’t go quite as smoothly as hoped as some of the chunks of whale went flying towards onlookers instead of towards the ocean. The spectators were showered with small pieces of rotting flesh, and while no one was hurt, a large chunk of blubber severely damaged a car. The highway division then buried the remnants.

One other case where a whale carcass was blown up, occurred in 1937 when two men isolated at a lighthouse observed a shark and seabird feeding frenzy and the undeniable stench of rotting flesh. The whale had washed up due to a recent storm and the two men decided to rig explosives to dispose of the carcass. Also in the Pacific Ocean, in 1979 when a pod of 41 sperm whales washed up on shore, State Park officials disposed of the carcasses by burning them before burying the charred remains.

Vancouver Island Whale Watching: British Columbia Boats Watch Migratory Whales

The experience of seeing huge animals in their natural environment increases public awareness of marine conservation issues.

Many people spend part of their leisure time watching whales, and several locations on Vancouver Island (British Colombia) provide excellent opportunities. Tofino, Ucluelet and Victoria are among the best.

Tofino and Ucluelet Whales

Between February and April the Gray Whales migrate past Tofino and Ucluelet, and resident pods remain around Clayoquot Sound until November. Humpback Whales can be seen at any time, but most pass through during the late spring on their way north, and again in the fall as they move back south. There are a number of pods of ‘Transient’ Killer Whales (Orca) – the ones that eat other whales. These are unpredictable, but come through every week or so.

Victoria Whales

There are three pods of ‘Resident’ Killer Whales that can be seen from Victoria. These are the ones that eat fish, and since their behaviour is fairly predictable (and there are over 90 of them) they are seen regularly throughout the year – whenever the weather allows! Gray Whales and Humpbacks also pass through the straits occasionally.

Zodiac or Cruiser

Wherever you choose to watch whales from a boat there will be an important decision to be made – do you want speed and flexibility, or do you lean towards comfort! Racing around in a ‘Zodiac’ inflatable is fun, but the ride can be rough and usually very wet. Cruisers give protection from the weather, but will not be able to ‘race off’ in quite the same way. Sometimes the weather will dictate the choice, but more often it is a question of personal choice (and maybe self-image!). Those of a ‘certain age’ might well opt for comfort, while the ‘alpha males’ will decide that a windswept drenching is more appropriate!

The Whale Watching Experience

All reputable companies regard the safety and welfare of the whales as paramount, equal to the comfort and well-being of their clients. (Apart from very sound conservation and humanitarian concerns, it would not make any sense to chase away the very source of income!). Seeing any animal in the wild adds a dimension to simply seeing it in a zoo, and is far removed from looking at pictures. Coming close to a huge whale that is behaving naturally in its own environment is an amazing experience – one that instils respect and leads on to a desire to ‘know more’. As more and more people become aware of the conservation issues that surround whales there is an ever-growing proportion of the general public that is concerned about the way we regard and treat the marine environment. This can only be a good thing!

Humpback Whale Survey in the Pacific: Scientific Study Invites Interest from Crews of Cruising Yachts

In August/September 2010, the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium (SPWRC) will conduct a survey of humpback whales as they pass Niue on their south-bound migration. Support for the project has been secured from the Niue Government and NGO Oma Tafua, but more help is needed on and off the water.

Opportunity to Participate in Whale Study

With the assistance of OceansWatch, an organisation of sailors dedicated to assisting scientific ocean research projects, the call is going out to the cruising yacht community and others with an interest in marine ecology for a unique sailing adventure. Many yachts call at Niue each year on the ‘coconut milk run’, and the survey's timing is ideal for them. It also coincides with college holidays in the northern hemisphere. For those without their own boat, there are weekly flights to Niue from New Zealand.

The ocean around Niue are of special interest to scientists. It is in these waters that humpback whales from the eastern and western Pacific are believed to meet and mix. Like elswhere in the vast South Pacific Ocean, there is a general lack of knowledge about whale activity in the region, and research is ongoing.

Niue has an advantage in that close-up whale sightings ae possible from dry land. The ocean depths just metres offshore make the island a haven for the animals as they rest on their journey. An active whale watching industry in Niue is the result of the whales’ natural congregation there.

The Niue Whale Survey Project

In 2008 as a larger scale survey was getting underway at the nearby Cook Islands, Niue’s first humpback count was completed. Fifty of the animals were sighted during a ten day period. The survey was limited by a lack of suitable vessels, and most work had to be done close offshore from small dinghies. A lack of funding prevented any follow-up work in 2009.

The SPWRC project requires both land and water based volunteers searching for humpback whales and recording their sightings. Volunteer yachties will be required to cover a predetermined area of ocean, taking other volunteers aboard to assist with recordings. Fluke photographs will be taken wherever possible to identify individual animals, and it is also planned to take samples from whales using non-invasive methods. The survey work will only be conducted in calm seas, vessels moving at 5 to 6 knots. A minimum time commitment of one week is needed to allow training and familiarisation.

OceansWatch is getting right behind the project, which it sees as an outstanding opportunity to witness whale research in practice and learn more about cetacean conservation in the South Pacific. The project will also involve the local community in marine conservation efforts.

The Humpback Whale’s Comeback

Humpback whales were hunted to the brink of extinction before the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1966. Numbers had by then dropped to dangerously low levels. The moratorium, the increased awareness of these special creatures and the advent of whale watching as a lucrative tourism activity have all since helped the whales’ cause. But they remain vulnerable, and they are potentially under threat by nations seeking to go against the tide of international public opinion that they should remain protected.

The South Pacific’s humpback whales travel up to 8,300 kilometres from wintering over off Central America to their summer feeding grounds in Antarctica. North Pacific humpbacks migrate in the opposite direction. Each year the whales calve and feed over the summer in high latitudes, returning to the tropics to winter over and rest. It is uncommon for them to cross the equator, but this has been recorded, as described by Science Daily in a report on whale migration of 10 April 2007.

Like the Cook Islands and other small Pacific nations, Niue has a whale sanctuary covering all of its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Whales of British Columbia's Coast – The Largest Mammals

Forty years ago Greenpeace brought attention to the dire plight of the world's great whales. Since 1968, when commercial whaling stopped in B.C., some species have started to recover. Expanded research and greater interest generally have resulted in conservation measures and more thoughtful consumerism, but our cetaeceans still need protection. Whale-watching is a popular aspect of Eco-tourism in B.C., and the demand is growing,

Sperm Whales in B.C.

The Sperm whale is the species most often depicted in story books, with a distinctive blunt forehead and wrinkled dark brown skin. They are carnivores and dive to find their favourite food – giant squid and octopus.

Sperm whales were hunted from 1908 until 1968 for their valuable oil, Spermacetti. Over 6000 Sperm whales were killed by whaling ships during those years. Although they aren't commonly seen off the B.C. coast today, these whales are not considered at risk due to the healthy population in other parts of the world. Perhaps they will become more prevalent near the west coast of Canada again, as are the other large whale species native to B.C.

 

Grey Whales in B.C.

Easily mistaken for large rocks when they are resting just off the beach, Grey whales' skin is mottled and scarred. They have no dorsal fin to draw attention to their back above the surface of the water, but a series of bumps along the spine is distinctive. When the Grey's tail breaks the surface of the water, the graceful shape makes identification easy, but they don't commonly breach.

The coast of B.C. is home to the eastern Grey whale, and since being protected their population has increased to about 20,000, whereas their western cousins have been hunted to near extinction on the other side of the North Pacific. Despite the increase in population, Greys are considered a Special Concern due to environmental threats to their habitat.

Greys are baleen bottom feeders, creating a trench along the bottom of the ocean and filtering out their dinner. Breeding in warm southern waters, eastern Greys migrate north along B.C.'s coast in the spring, to spend summer in Alaska. They have been seen increasingly in the Georgia Strait and among the Discovery Islands between Vancouver Island and the mainland of B.C., with the summer resident Grey whales numbering approximately 80.

The population of eastern Grey whales has stabilized following a rapid increase after the cessation of commercial whaling. The most threatening predator today is the Orca, also known as the Killer Whale. Transient Orcas have an annual organized hunt for Grey whales as they try to pass through False Pass on the way to the Bering Sea. The Killers take about 150 Greys every year and are the subject of research studies today.

Humpback Whales in B.C.

Humpback whales are slowly recovering from over hunting and are considered to be threatened in B.C. although sightings inside Vancouver Island and elsewhere are on the increase. Although sightings are becoming more common, Humpbacks are considered threatened due to human activity such as commercial fishing, commercial shipping, and pollution.

Achieving lengths up to 16 metres, these giants are very impressive as they perform acrobatics, slap the water with their large pectoral fins, and lob their tails. The large and distinctive pectoral fins wave gracefully, and the blow is tall and full. Whale-watchers love these performances.

Humpbacks that are seen along the B.C. coast in summer have usually spent the winter in Hawaii where they breed and calve.

Blue Whales of B.C.

Blue whales are rarely seen along the B.C. coast today, having been over hunted in the past, and currently are considered endangered. It is estimated that about 2000 of the world's population of 10000 Blue whales live along the west coast of North America, with only 200-250 living off the coast of B.C. Some encouraging sightings have occurred since 2009, with an increase of krill due to cyclic cooling in water temperature in the Pacific Ocean.

During whaling years, they were seen most often off the west coast of Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) and Vancouver Island, and recently sightings have occurred near Langara Island. Blue whales are the largest animals known to have lived on earth, often reaching 25 metres in length, with the largest ever recorded at 30 metres. This massive size is sustained by eating six to eight tonnes of krill every day.

Although the human ear is unable to distinguish the low-range, infrasonic sound made by the Blue whale, it is thought to be the loudest sound produced by an animal. This ability makes it possible for very wide ranging communication within the widely dispersed Blue whale population.

Current dangers to survival of the Blue whale include entanglement in commercial fishing nets, pollution, and climate change that affects their habitat and the availability of krill.

Humpback Whale Songs and Bubble Net Feeding on Alaska Cruise

The episode of Nature on PBS, “The Fellowship of Whales”, presents some of the latest research about the behaviors of marine wildlife and humpback whales. As a baby whale travels with its mother from Hawaii to Alaska, observers see humpback whales breaching, listen to the humpback whale songs and witness the humpback whales' spectacular "bubble net feeding". But researchers are still working to discover the complete story about the humpback whale songs and feeding behaviors.

Humpback Whales Feed in Southeast Alaska

After the long whale migration from the warm waters of Hawaii, the humpback whales arrive in spring and summer at the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska where the icy waters are rich with krill and herring. The whales are very hungry because most have not fed for months. The whales are swimming and breaching as they gather for the life-sustaining feast.

Captain Dennis Rogers of Alaska Sea Adventures is an expert on local marine wildlife on the waters in Southeast Alaska. He often leases his cruising vessel to humpback whale and marine wildlife research teams. Spring and summer is the perfect time to go on an Alaska cruise and observe humpback whales during bubble net feeding, and to take spectacular humpback whale photos and video footage.

Humpback Whales Follow the Whale Song of the Lead Hunter

In 1970, Judy Collins released her album, Whales and Nightingales. It may have been the first time the general public heard the hauntingly beautiful songs of the humpback whales. As more research has been gathered over the last 30 years, it is found that the humpback whale sings a different tune as he/she trumpets the call for the humpback whales to gather to feed.

When it is determined that the cruising vessel is over a school of herring and whales gather nearby, a hydrophone (an underwater microphone) is dropped into the water so researchers can hear and record the humpback whales’ songs and calls during the feeding. The whale leader's call intensifies, becomes gradually higher in pitch, gets louder and louder and faster and faster heading for a climax, until the whales burst up out of the water in unison filling their mouths with their catch of herring. After they groan and slide back into the water, the whales regroup to feed again.

According to marine wildlife research by the Alaska Whale Foundation, it is believed the humpback whale songs and calls during feeding may be used more toward controlling the prey than in coordinating whale movements. Though it was thought that only male humpback whales sing, researchers have discovered that some feeding calls are actually organized by dominant female humpback whales. In one case, a group of eight females formed a nucleus for one of the many feeding groups that was observed returning to Southeast Alaska for eight years.

Humpback Whales Create Bubble Nets to Trap Herring

Sonar is used to document bubble net structures including their depth, geometry, and relationship to prey. As the lead whale calls, the others tighten up the circles and start blowing air creating a net of bubbles forcing the herring to the surface. Then the whales gather together beneath the catch, surround, swim up and explode out of the water as their mouths fill up with their catch. If the hunt doesn’t work out, the lead whale calls it off and they start over.

Dr. Fred Sharpe, primary marine wildlife investigator from the Alaska Whale Foundation, remarks, "I remember my first bubble net. It was 1987 and my first time researching whales in Alaska. Sitting quietly on the waters of Chatham Strait, a circle of bubbles began to form at the surface. Over the hydrophone came a wild cacophony of trumpet blast. As the whales burst through the surface, I leapt up and cheered. That was the moment I became captivated with the Alaskan humpbacks."

No one knows exactly how and when this feeding behavior started. In the Nature program, “The Fellowship of Whales”, the baby whale is left behind and not included as her mother joins a group of humpback whales to feed. Though it is clear that the young whale learns the ways of the humpback whales from the mother, it may have to wait until it is older to be trained in bubble net feeding.

Identification of British Columbia Whales and Dolphins

There have been a large number of unusual whale and dolphin sightings off of the British Columbia coastline in recent weeks, and this animal activity may be making people wonder how to identify whale and dolphin species. This article will explain how to recognize the most common species found in British Columbia, Canada.

Dolphins and Porpoises

Dolphins and porpoises that live in the waters of British Columbia, with the exception of Killer Whales, are less than 20 feet in length. The majority of dolphin and porpoise species are around 10 feet in length at maturity, making them stand out significantly from their larger relatives the whales.

There are several dolphin species found in northern Pacific waters, but two main ones are seen off the BC coast. The Pacific White-sided dolphin is quite distinct, measuring just under ten feet in length at maturity, and tends to be fairly fast moving and quite acrobatic. There is a light gray, often moon shaped patch near the top of their dorsal fin, the fin located part way down their back. There is also a thick black or dark gray stripe over the back and patches of the same colour along the sides on a background of light gray. The underbelly of these dolphins is white.

Killer Whales are the largest of the dolphins, not whales as their name suggests. When fully mature they can be around thirty feet in length, and are uniformly black all over except for some distinctive markings. There are white ovals near the eyes, and white along the lower jaw extending back to the side fins, known as pectoral fins, and across the stomach. Killer whales also have white or gray patches just behind the dorsal fin. Killer whales are easily distinguished from other dolphins and whales by the dorsal fins of the males. These fins can be up to five feet in height, with the fins of females and juveniles being significantly shorter.

There are two types of porpoise found in BC waters; The Dall's Porpoise and the Harbour Porpoise. The larger of the two species, the Dall's Porpoise, is just under ten feet in length when mature. They are uniformly black except for small white patches found on the dorsal fin, and white extending up both sides from the stomach, on the tips of the pectoral fins and along the edge of the tail.

At just over five feet in length the Harbour porpoise is the smallest of the whale and dolphins off the BC coast. The Harbour porpoise is dark in colour, with a lighter underbelly that extends part way up both sides. It also has a low, small dorsal fin.

Whales

There are many species of whale that call the North Pacific home, from the mighty blue whale to the false killer whale. While any of these species can potentially be seen in BC waters, three whale species are more commonly seen than any of the others. These are the Gray whale, Humpback whale and Minke whale.

Gray whales are most commonly seen on the Western side of Vancouver Island, but have recently been seen between the mainland and Vancouver Island, and one particularly adventurous whale travelled into Vancouver's False Creek. Gray whales are just over forty feet when mature, and as their name suggests, Gray whales are a mottled gray colour. They have a long narrow head, and there is no protruding dorsal fin, instead these whales have a series of humps on the lower back leading to the tail. This lack of a dorsal fin is the easiest identifier of Gray whales, as this characteristic is unique to Gray whales of all the large whales commonly seen in British Columbia.

Similar in size but quite different in appearance to the Gray Whale is the Humpback Whale. Reaching just over fifty feet in length, Humpbacks are the largest of the three most commonly seen whale species. Humpbacks are uniformly dark coloured, appearing gray or black. White markings occur on the underside of their pectoral fins, on the underside of the belly, and in unique patterns under the tail that differentiate individual whales. Bumps are visible on the front of the head, and the dorsal fin has a distinct shape and is quite short.

The smallest of the commonly seen whales is the Minke whale. These whales can reach just over thirty feet in length. They have a short, small dorsal fin located quite far down the back, and an overall gray colour, sometimes with bands of lighter colour near their pectoral flippers. The undersides of Minke whales are white, and white patches are located on the tops of their pectoral fins. Their small size and the white patches on the tops of their pectoral fins make these whales quite distinct from the other whale species.

Save the Whales

In 1986, a ban was placed on commercial whaling by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). This is the organization responsible for regulating the whaling Industry and also protecting the species of whales. There are over 70 members of this organization who adhere to the rules make by IWC in order to ensure that whales remain protected.

Whales are mammals. There are two types of whales: Baleen and Toothed. Despite all the efforts by IWC and other organizations, many whale species still remain endangered or vulnerable. The main reasons for this are:

Persistence of Commercial Whaling

Despite a ban on the commercial whaling, over a thousand whales are killed each year for the commercial market. These massive beautiful animals are killed by exploding harpoons and chased through the oceans as they die.

 

Oil and Gas Development causes Danger to Whales

There are only 130 western North Pacific whales left in the world. The main reason being that their feeding ground is being developed for oil and gas operations off Sakhalin Island, Russian Federation.

Ship Strikes and Net Entanglements

North Atlantic right whales are one of the earth's rarest mammals. Collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing nets continue to drive these whales to the brink of extinction.

Climate Change

The rise of sea level and the change in sea water temperature is bound to adversely affect them. It is unclear as to how quickly these massive marine animals will adapt to these changes. Also, global warming may affect the krill population, the major food source for whales.

Underwater Sonar Testing and Noise Pollution

Underwater sonar testing results in a large number of whales being stranded on the beaches. The low frequency active sonar used by the military to detect the presence of submarines causes whale beaching. Not only this but loud sounds of ships, acoustic smog, confuses whales and make it harder for them to communicate with each other. Off shore drilling also creates noise pollution.

Oil Spills

Oils spills, such as the one that occurred on 20th April 2010, are dangerous for all marine animals, including whales. Whales have to come to the surface for air and hence, oil spills are a particular threat to them. They may inhale the toxic crude or the oil fumes. It can also contaminate their prey and thus in turn taint their own bodies.

What can you do to help this cause?

As an ordinary consumer, you can do a lot to help the cause of endangered whales and even other endangered animals.

  • Do not release balloons in the air as they can travel thousands of miles and end up in the oceans. Whales and dolphins can eat it by mistake and die.
  • Be an informed consumer. If you are living in a country where commercial whaling is still continued, be an active worker against it. Do not use any product that contains whale ingredients.
  • Do not litter the beaches as that garbage goes directly into the oceans.
  • Protect the oceans. Urban runoff, storm water pollution, is one of the main causes of water pollution. Home use items such as motor oil, antifreeze, detergents etc are swept through storm drains and into rivers, finding their way into the oceans. Plastic bags are sometimes eaten by marine animals. This can make them sick due to the resin or chemicals that are found in the plastic. Also by ingesting plastic they may feel full and starve themselves to death. Water pollution hurts all marine animals, including whales.
  • Buy locally. Reduce the use of imported products or products that contain imported ingredients. All imported products are transported via ships, creating noise pollution in the oceans. Moreover, ships discharge their garbage into the oceans on a regular basis.
  • Lobby for protection of oceans and marine lives. Donate, if you can. Write letters to your political leaders to make this issue heard. Lobby hard against ocean exploitation for oil.
  • Learn about environment protection and other endangered species such as tigers, wolves, African lions and woolly spider monkeys. Join an organization such as CARE2 where you can simply click every day and let the sponsors contribute towards your favorite cause on your behalf.
  • Adopt a whale through Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society program where you can join the Whale Adoption Program and play an active part in saving these wonderful animals.

Humpback Whales Recovering: And Their Spectacular Displays Draw Whale Watchers Worldwide

Once a target for whaling boats, now humpbacks draw whale watching crowds with their acrobatics, as they rebound from a history of being hunted.

Humpback whales (Megaptera novangliae) are found throughout the world. Their spectacular behaviours make them favourites of whale watching cruises. Although they travel long distances in the open ocean, humpbacks also spend significant time near the coasts. Humpback whales may enter estuaries, rivers and bays as they migrate along the coasts, sometimes at their peril. Studies of humpbacks are aided by their unique markings and lack of fear of humans.

Status and Population

Humpback whales are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, as Appendix 1 by CITES and as Endangered by the US. World population is estimated at approximately 6,000 animals. Humpback whales were one of the species targeted by whalers. More than 60,000 were killed in the early 1900s. Humpbacks have the most blubber of all the roqual whales relative to their size which made them valuable sources of oil.

In addition to habitat degradation and depleted food supply, pollutants such as DDT, PBCs, chlordane and dieldrin sequester in have been detected in their blubber. Levels are highest during feeding seasons and drop during breeding. This is most likely because they are feeding on fish and krill contaminated with these chemicals. They gain weight, mostly in blubber, during feeding season and utilize that blubber for migrating and breeding. Sadly, these toxins are also passed on to calves during nursing.

But the good news is that humpback populations are increasing and the north Atlantic stocks are coming back the strongest.

Whale Watching and Research

Today their economic and social value comes from their willingness to allow boats to approach and observe them. On their feeding grounds humpback whales generally ignore vessels that maintain a safe distance. In some cases the whales actually approach boats, so who’s watching who?

The undersides of humpback whale tail flukes are black and white, with each animal having a unique pattern. Using these patterns, many individual humpbacks are being studied over time. Whale watch boats assist in these studies noting the unique identification marks and comparing them with id books onboard. They then report which whales they have seen, their condition and what they were doing.

Behaviours

Some of the behaviours which make humpbacks so much fun to watch have a practical purpose. Slapping the water with their pectoral flippers or their tail flukes (called lobtailing) while swimming in a circle is part of feeding behaviour which may stun or confuse prey making for easier feeding. Flipper slapping is also seen during courtship. Body slashing and tail slapping can be aggressive behaviours aimed at other whales or boats that come too close. Breaching (coming completely out of the water) and spyhopping (coming headfirst out of the water) allows them to see what’s happening above the surface.

But watching humpback whales in the wild, it seems very likely that sometimes they’re just having fun.