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                                   Marine Mammals

Historically, humpback whales were commercially hunted from the late 1800s to 1965. During this time period an estimated 28,000 humpback whales were caught in the North Pacific. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) proposed that the population be listed as “Threatened”, based on low observed densities of humpback whales in British Columbia. This threatened status has recently been re-assessed by COSEWIC and humpbacks have been down-listed to a species of “Special Concern” due to the increase in the population. This re-assessment is being challenged by a number of researchers. 

The social relationships humpbacks have developed with each other are through direct experience and by choice, and not necessarily due to family bonds. Humpbacks have displayed many aspects of their unique behavior in our research area. Many of which are essential skills that mothers teach their calves, enabling them to survive independently into the following season.

Each whale has a unique pattern on the underside of its tail fluke, which can be used as a fingerprint, allowing researchers to identify individual whales.  In the years that we have been living among these whales, we have learned that each whale, like our species, are clearly distinct individuals; and that their uniqueness extends beyond their distinguishing fluke patterns shown in the subsequent photographs.  Our hope is that this catalog is a first step towards discovering and appreciating the individual personas of these magnificent humpback whales. Having evolved for the past 38 million years suspended underwater, the way that whales engage with and use sound is unimaginably different from the way that we humans interact with our terrestrial surroundings. Since their development under the sea, however, the structures responsible for sound creation and perception in whales have changed significantly. In contrast to many terrestrial species that depend mostly on a combination of visual and auditory cues, cetaceans rely primarily on sound vibrations to navigate through the depths of the ocean.

There are two distinct types of Orcas that use Canada's Pacific North Coast: the salmon-eating 'residents' and the marine mammal-eating 'transients'. Both are top of their respective complex food webs. Victoria on the southern tip of Vancouver Island is one of the best places in the world to observe the resident killer whales.

 

Salmon returning to the streams and rivers of their birth are funneled through narrow channels, making a fantastic hunting ground for killer whales. The transients are known to eat pretty much any warm-blooded mammal along the Pacific Coast.

Well over one hundred resident Orcas call this area home. Pacific White-sided dolphins come in groups of several hundred and regular sightings of Dall's porpoise, harbor porpoise, Minke whales, Stellar sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, and of course Humpback and Grey whales making this marine mammal heaven!

Of the twenty-three species of whales, dolphins, porpoises, and sea turtles in B.C. waters, twelve are listed under the Species at Risk Act as Endangered, Threatened, or of Special Concern. In addition, all cetacean and turtle species are subjected to similar pressures from threats to marine mammals and to their marine habitat. Whales and dolphins are threatened on all sides and in every way imaginable, from the seas, they swim in, to the food they eat and the food they can be, to the money that can come from killing and caging them, and even from the enthusiasm of those who “love” them.

The Stellar Sea Lion is a common species of Pinniped seen in the local waters around Vancouver Island during the fall/winter periods. They are the largest of the Otarrids (eared-seals). They are a very distinct brown colour and tend to make a loud growling/belching sound. They can weigh up to 1.2 tons and can reach seven to nine feet (2.4m-2.8m) in length. The males are unmistakably bigger than females, often up to three times the size.