BACKGROUNDER

WELCOMING WHALES PROJECT

What makes humans want to connect with whales and dolphins? Are we attracted because whales are so enormously charismatic and dolphins so playful? Is it because they are so obviously intelligent yet different enough to be enigmatic? And the attraction seems to be mutual. Whales and dolphins are curious about us too. Since we stopped slaughtering them in 1969 many have even become friendly. More whales of all kinds are returning to their former summer feeding grounds. Here in the Salish Sea [Georgia Strait on maps] a small number of humpback whales are staying in the waters between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia, Canada. Currently most humans in our region are welcoming whales with open hearts. But there are some choices to be made.

Choice foods for humpback whales are forage fish like herring, and krill which is partially composed of tiny shrimp. Herring were once so abundant in this region that people could go down to the beaches during a herring spawn and scoop up buckets of the 25cm [10in] oily fish. But over-fishing and pollution of their spawning beaches decimated their numbers. Herring only began to return to Powell River beaches 2 years ago after a 30 year disappearance. Does the return of the herring have something to do with the return of the humpback whales? In November 2015 Fisheries and Oceans Canada (FOC) allowed a catch of over 7,000 tonnes of herring in Georgia Strait for food and bait fish with more planned. One humpback whale can eat 1 – 1.5 tons of food per day. Will we choose to leave some food for them?

In September/October of 2015 there were lots of krill in Jervis Inlet. 4 or 5 humpback whales, including a Mom and calf were feeding and frolicking there during that period. We camped in Jervis Inlet in October to wait for the whales. Unfortunately the times they came closest were in the dark of a moonless night.

Here’s two humpbacks breaching and tail lobbing on the far side of the Inlet from our campsite. They were 1 km across the fjord so you will see their bodies hit the water and then hear the powerful sound a few seconds later.

In November FOC allowed a krill fishery with 500 tonnes of krill to be taken out of small inlets like Jervis.Krill in B.C. are harvested mainly as a feed supplement for both fish farms (gives salmon their ‘pink’ colour) and aquariums. Krill are a large dietary proportion of many local finfish (hake, herring, rockfish, salmon) and if krill stocks should fall, finfish could be affected. [ref: http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/science/oceans/plankton-plancton/zooplankton-zooplancton-eng.html]

To say that a humpback whale is merely large depends on your perspective. When a 16m (52ft) whale swims under your 3m (9ft) boat your voice tends to rise rise 2 octaves in breathless excitement!

A Humpback named “KC” (Kelp Creature) steaming up Jervis Inlet past our 3m(9 ft) inflatable dinghy.

We love to watch them and interact with them. But more and more folks in boats are venturing out onto the water. If we want whales here we will have to leave room for them to go about making their living without interference by humans. However, if whales are curious and approach them why shouldn’t humans welcome their interest?

Many whales get entangled in commercial fishing gear and die slow horrible deaths. Are we willing to use our ingenuity and financial resources to design whale friendly fishing gear?

And what about tankers? The “Northern Gateway” project proposed to drive oil supertankers right through the northern whale migration route along the BC coast. There have been proposals for transporting LNG in supertankers through the Salish Sea. Do we want whales in our waters or supertankers?

So there are Choices to be made. Will we accommodate our large friends in the future? If so, how? Are we planning for coexistence now?

WELCOMING WHALES PROJECT

or

HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH WHALES

In the macrocosm this project is an inquiry into the human-whale-dolphin connection. Distilled to the microcosm it is a story about getting to know your neighbours; a story of how local humans make friends with local whales.

When first meeting anyone from another culture it helps to have a guide who understands that culture and can interpret the language. We will ask humans who have relationships with individual whales or dolphins that have developed into friendships to be our guides. Some of these humans may be biologists who have been studying and interacting with a group of whales or dolphins for decades. Some may be from coastal First Nations who have a long history of living and canoeing along side whales before the industrial whaling debacle. Some First Nations hunted whales in a highly specialized and ceremonial hunt.

We’ve heard stories about homesteaders living beside resident humpback whales in the Broughton Archipelago 50 years ago. People in villages along the Pacific Coast of Mexico and the Sea of Cortes are currently living and fishing beside humpback, blue, fin and grey whales on the southern end of their great migrations.

Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could ask whales and dolphins how they perceive the universe? Would they tell us about their cultures and their history? What do they perceive about the health of the oceans? Humpback whales have been on Planet Earth in their present form for around 18million years. If we could communicate with them would they teach us what they’ve learned?