Yesterday, Jared and I (the two Alert Bay-based MERS Directors) took advantage of some calm weather and headed out on the water to see if there were any whales around. Thanks to a report from Jim Borrowman of Stubbs Island Whale Watching, we were lucky enough to see and photograph a juvenile humpback whale, almost right in front of our house!
Most humpback whales who feed in British Columbia during the summer head to warmer waters (places like Mexico and Hawaii) in the winter, which is where mating happens and where calves are born. This means that it is rare to see humpbacks in these colder waters in winter time… in fact, this is the first time that MERS researchers have ever seen a humpback whale in this area in February!
Like fingerprints for humans, each humpback whale has a unique shape and pattern on its tail or “fluke,” allowing us to identify the whales as individuals. MERS researchers have put together a catalogue of the humpback whales that have been photographed in our study area (the Johnstone and Queen Charlotte Straits) since the 1980’s, and this catalogue now contains the identification photographs of over 130 individual humpbacks!
We did not recognize the small humpback from yesterday as one that we had seen in this area before, but we were able to photograph its fluke, which means that we will be able to match it to future sightings of the same whale, if it ever returns to our area. We will add it to our catalogue, and will give it a nickname, based on the markings on the underside of its tail.
We will let you know if he or she shows up again later in 2011!