Eight years ago, Russ Nicks was lucky if he saw five to 10 humpback whales a year when he was out on whale-watching tours in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
But in the last few years, the captain with B.C. Whale Tours in Victoria has noticed a huge increase in the amount of humpback whales whenever he hits the open water.
“We are noticing an increase every year. We’re seeing an increase in the same ones over and over again, and this year we’re seeing new ones that haven’t been identified yet,” said Nicks, adding the whales seem to be in one particular area of the Juan de Fuca Strait, and usually start making an appearance in March.
“They are just amazing animals. They are extremely large and peaceful. You get them on a good day and they’re breaching out of the air, doing cartwheels. It never gets old.”
Humpback whales have not only been spotted in large numbers in the Strait of Juan de Fuca this year, but are also making a comeback in the waters of the Strait of Georgia.
When commercial whaling in B.C. waters and the North Pacific ended in the 1960s, only an estimated 1,500 humpbacks were left in the entire north Pacific Ocean. The numbers, however, have recovered significantly since then, and the Vancouver Aquarium’s B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network estimates the population is now around 20,000.
For Nick and his passengers, seeing the whales on a regular basis is the thrill of a lifetime.
“They love them, especially on a day where they get the humpback and the orcas,” he said. “That’s what they came to see. That’s the west coast.”
— Pamela Roth