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PHOTOS: Victoria whale watchers document first baby humpback of 2024

Hundreds of humpback whales are expected to feed in the area through fall

The first humpback baby of the year is making waves in the Salish Sea.

The first calf of 2024 – likely three- to four-months old – and its mother, BCX1460 or Black Pearl, were first spotted in Haro Strait on April 18 by Pacific Whale Watch Association member company Eagle Wing Tours of Victoria.

The pair has been seen several times since in area waters.

“It’s always fun to see which mom and calf will make it back first,” PWWA executive director Erin Gless said in a news release. “Black Pearl tends to spend her summers near north Vancouver Island. This year we were lucky enough to spot her in the Salish Sea.”

RELATED: More whales spotted in Salish Sea this year than any other

Humpback calves are born near Hawaii, Mexico and Central America and then travel thousands of miles with their mothers to cooler feeding grounds, such as the Salish Sea. Black Pearl is known to migrate to the Hawaiian Islands in winter, and has been photographed several times off the coast of Maui. She has given birth to at least three previous calves including the most recent, a male born in 2022 nicknamed Kraken.

Another celebrity, BCY0324 known as Big Mama, is among a handful of others also documented by local whale watchers recently. True to her nickname, she’s given birth to seven calves including her first, Divot in 2003, and the most recent Moresby in 2022. Big Mama’s offspring are also prolific, providing her with at least six grandcalves and two great-grandcalves so far, according to the PWWA. She also travels to the Hawaiian Islands during the winter.

In the coming weeks, many more humpback whales are expected to return and feed on small fish and crustaceans through the fall.

RELATED: Discovery Islands resurfacing as a B.C. humpback hot spot

Industrialized whaling removed humpback whales from the Salish Sea by the early 1900s. In all, more than 30,000 humpback whales were killed in the North Pacific during the whaling era, and some scientists estimate as few as 1,000 individuals remained by the time B.C.’s last whaling station closed in 1967.

Those numbers are rebounding. A jump in documented humpback whales in the waters off B.C. in 2022 marked what’s being called a “humpback comeback” by those in the businesses of preservation.

Nearly 400 humpbacks were documented in the Salish Sea this year. The 396 individuals documented include 34 mothers and their first-year calves.

RELATED: 2021 brought record sightings, many newborn whale calves to Victoria waters