A dead humpback whale was spotted in Masset Inlet on Nov. 5, marking the third found in B.C.’s coastal waters in less than a month.
Oceans and Fisheries Canada (DFO) secured the young male humpback’s body on a beach near Masset and scheduled a necropsy for Nov. 9.
“The necropsy will examine the animal and take samples to identify cause of death where possible. A Haida Nation biologist will assist in the necropsy and a ceremony will be performed,” a spokesperson for the DFO stated.
The body was 12 metres long and could be seen moving up and down the inlet with the tide, Jackie Hildering, a humpback whale researcher at the Marine Education and Research Society said.
However, scientists do not know whether these events signify an increase or a decrease in deaths because dead whales usually sink, Hildering explained.
“They sink or they end up somewhere on our vast beautiful coastline where they’re never detected or where their bodies aren’t so newly dead where something can be learned from them,” she said.
“We are so relieved that this whale’s body and its story won’t be lost,” Hildering said.
While scientists currently do not definitively know what killed any of the three humpback whales, Hildering was involved with the humpback whale that was found on Malcolm Island and she said it looked like the whale had a collision.
Humpbacks are a type of baleen whale, which have some stark differences from orcas, a toothed whale.
“I think the average boater has kind of defaulted in the absence of the big whales to think that all whales act like orca,” Hildering said.
Baleen whales typically spend half the year in warm southern waters where there is little to no food. Therefore, when they are in the cold northern waters they are very focused on feeding, Hildering said.
Unlike orcas, baleen whales do not have bio sonar so they are more prone to entanglement and collisions. They also travel in unpredictable patterns, she said.
We have these very large whales that do not sense fishing gear or boats in the same way as others and are focused on feeding. It becomes a recipe for disaster when boaters assume they are travelling in a straight line, Hildering said.
“What adds to their unpredictability is they can be lying right at or below the surface where they look like a log or you don’t see them at all because they’re resting.”
To prevent collisions with a whale, which are dangerous for both parties, the Marine Education and Research Society has a campaign asking vessel operators to “See a Blow, Go Slow.”
There are a couple of different signs that a whale is close including a shot of water from a whale’s blow hole or seeing an aggregation of birds, which often signifies food in the vicinity, Hildering said.
A baleen whale can stay submerged for 15 to 20 minutes, therefore it is important for boaters to slow down to seven knots when they are within 200 to 400 metres of a whale.
Researchers and the DFO also encourage the public to report whale sightings.
If a marine mammal is seen dead, injured or in distress people should call the marine mammal incident reporting hotline at 1-800-465-4336.
Any other whale sighting can be submitted using the Whale Report App. More information about the app can be found at www.wildwhales.org/wras/.
Reporting not just dead whales but live ones as well helps researchers add a piece of the puzzle together that explains how the mammals are using the coast and more, Hildering said.
“It takes so many people to understand the giants,” she said.
Kaitlyn Bailey | Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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