In the News....
This past summer, three humpback whales were reported entangled off the BC coast. Two were successfully disentangled, and one was never re-located.
The extent of cetacean (whale, dolphin and porpoise) entanglement in fishing gear and lines in BC waters is not well understood. With a large and mostly uninhabited coastline, many entangled animals likely go undetected or unreported; therefore determining the scope of this problem is difficult. However, even considering the small likelihood of detection, 54 reports of entanglements cetacean species have been received by the BC Marine Mammal Response Network since 2008. Humpback whales have been the most commonly reported species entangled in BC, though many other species, especially smaller cetaceans, are affected as well.
Entanglement can happen with a variety of gear, such as crab and prawn traps and gillnets. The majority of entanglements involve line wrapped through the animals’ mouth, around their pectoral flippers, or around the tail peduncle (stock) or flukes. While entanglement can cause drowning right away, especially in smaller cetaceans and sea turtles, it can also cause long-term impairment and a slow decline in body condition. Entanglements can affect the animal’s ability to properly feed or swim and the line can cut into the animal’s body, causing infection or deformation.
In early August, a humpback whale was reported off the coast of Tofino tangled in crab trap gear including several floats and more than 100 meters of rope. Crew from the Whale Centre were able to cut off all the gear and free the whale which had likely been entangled for several weeks judging from the extent of its injuries. For video of the event and the complete story see here.
In the Strait of Georgia in late July, another humpback whale was reported in Active Pass trailing a buoy behind it. This whale was re-spotted several times and attempts to disentangle it were unsuccessful. Through photo-identification, the whale was determined to be Canuck, a whale previously spotted in Johnstone Strait this year. Unfortunately for Canuck, the gear is no longer visible at the surface making the whale difficult to identify and report. His body condition is deteriorating and his survival has become compromised. Attempts to notify and inform the public have not resulted in any subsequent sightings of Canuck. For a complete story see here.
A third entangled juvenile humpback was reported on BC’s central coast in Caamano Sound in late August. This whale was caught up in a large gillnet which covered its blowhole and also made it impossible to feed. Local observers from Gil Island and local First Nations reported it immediately and stayed with the whale through the night in order to track it so a speedy disentanglement could be attempted as soon as trained personnel from Fisheries and Oceans were on-site. The next morning, a crew arrived and after several hours, the whale was free of gear. For a video of this event see here.
It is important to remember that anyone who encounters an entangled whale should not attempt any action on their own, but should report it right away. Entanglements should be reported ASAP to the Marine Mammal Response Network at 1 800 465-4336 or on Channel 16 on the VHF radio.
Photo: Cetacea Lab
A Rare Sighting
The Robson Bight Ecological Reserve
in Johnstone Strait is a very unique and special place for all kinds of marine life. The waters and rubbing beaches of the Bight are listed as critical habitat for northern resident killer whales – but killer whales are not the only type of marine species to frequent the Bight. Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall’s porpoise, and various seabirds are all residents of this area, as well as all five types of pacific salmon species, important seaweeds and invertebrates. However, this September marked two unprecedented visitors to the area since the Reserve was established in 1982 - fin whales!
Fin whales are the second largest whale after blue whales and can reach up to 26 meters in length. Historically, fin whales were once abundant in BC waters but whaling efforts in the early 20th century all but decimated their populations. The result is that fin whales are listed as threatened under Canada’s Species At Risk Act and today sightings are rare, and generally occur offshore. So when Marie Fournier, a whale researcher at OrcaLab
, spotted two animals around 22 meters in length, with blows reaching 5 meters into the air, she couldn’t believe her eyes!
Jared Towers of Fisheries and Oceans was notified and was able to take several identification photographs. As luck would have it, one of the whales in Robson Bight was the same animal he had photographed in Hecate Strait last summer. Furthermore, farther north on Langara Island, about 50 fin whales were sighted this year. Considering in previous years it was unusual to spot 5 or 10, it appears as if BC’s fin whale population may be on the rebound. Researchers in BC and Alaska suspect what may be happening is that fin whales have been slowly recovering for the past 45 years since the last whaling station was closed in 1967. John Ford, a marine mammal specialist with Fisheries and Oceans, expects the apparent increase in their numbers lately is the result of a steep curve of population growth. Hopefully this sighting is not the last of its kind in Robson Bight; and by identifying individuals through a growing photo catalogue, the status of BC’s fin whale population can be better understood.
News article: Times Colonist
Photo: Jared Towers