Last week was an exciting time for the BC Cetacean Sightings Network! While we often receive 100s of reports a month of whales, dolphin and porpoises from along the coast of BC, it’s not so often that one of these animals shows up so close to our office! On Wednesday, May 5 we received an excited call from a jogger that he had just spotted a grey whale off Stanley Park! BCCSN staff rushed out to have a look at the animals to confirm the species identification and found it in the unlikely location of False Creek!
This busy waterway, surrounded by downtown Vancouver, has had a few other cetacean visitors in the past, but never a grey whale. Due to the amount of vessel traffic, there was concern for the whale, which moved up and down the dead-end waterway several times before heading out into English Bay. Boaters are reminded that while these animals visit our busy water ways, it is incredibly important to follow the Be Whale Wise guidelines for marine mammal viewing. The guidelines can be found here. Luckily, due to monitoring by the Coast Guard and Vancouver Police, most boats were kept at a distance and the whale made it out unscathed. Hundreds of people watched the whale from the surrounding seawall- a rare sight for most urban dwellers!
Grey whales had already been in the media that week, as one had been reported repeatedly near the Squamish Estuary by residents, boaters and even a few kiteboarders! After photographing the whale near Vancouver, technicians from Fisheries and Oceans Canada determined that the Squamish and Vancouver whale was indeed the same individual. Grey whales are most commonly identified by their mottled pattern on their flanks.
While seeing a grey whale near downtown Vancouver or Squamish isn’t too common an experience, the BCCSN does often receive reports of greys making pit-stops around the Lower Mainland on their northward migration. Places like Boundary Bay near Tsawwassen and Crescent Beach off White Rock are often spots where greys are seen grabbing a quick snack in the spring.
There wasn’t much evidence that the whale tried to feed in False Creek, however it was observed trying to feed off nearby Jericho Beach. Reports from Squamish also indicate that it was feeding there. Greys often choose silty, sandy bottom areas to forage- where they actually filter the sediment for invertebrates like crab larvae and amphipods. They will also gorge on herring spawn, which, according to Vancouver Aquarium fish researcher Jeff Marliave, was in abundance in Howe Sound this year. At this time of year, greys are incredibly hungry after not feeding for several months during their winter in Mexico.
Through the ‘citizen science’ of the BC Cetacean Sightings Network we have been able to track the movement of this animal throughout the area, important information to help learn more about grey whales and the health of this particular animal. You too can become a part of this network- if you see a whale, dolphin, porpoise or sea turtle, report it! Reports can be made online here or by calling 1866 I SAW ONE (toll free).