Over the past few weeks, the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network has received many excited reports from boaters and residents in and around Howe Sound of humpback whales in the area. Thanks to a photo by Jamie Franklin, and the identification work by our colleagues at the Marine Education and Research Society, we’ve learned that at least some of these sightings are of a whale known as ‘Cassiopeia’!
Cassiopeia is a whale that was first identified by the researchers at MERS in 2008 near Northeastern Vancouver Island. He/She has been seen most years since in that area and in 2013 was also spotted near Campbell River and in the Strait of Georgia. While it is unknown if Cassiopeia is male or female, the pretty name was given to this whale because of the ‘W’ shape on the right side of its fluke. The constellation Cassiopeia is also W shaped (learn more about how MERS name humpback whales here and how we identify whales here).
While without proper photographic proof, we can’t confirm if all recent humpback whale sightings in Howe Sound are Cassiopeia, we do know that these sightings have caused quite a stir! What many locals may not realize, however, is that Howe Sound once boasted excellent humpback whale watching over 100 years ago. As we outlined in this past blog, in the early 1900s, Bowen Island was a popular tourist destination, with tours running regularly from Vancouver. Tourists would board steamer ships operated by Captain Jack A. Cates, manager of the Terminal Steamship Company. Frequently, the ships would stop to watch humpback whales that frequented these waters.
Unfortunately, the humpback whales that once used this area were all wiped out by commercial whaling in the early part of the 20th century. Thankfully, with a resurgence of humpback populations throughout the B.C. coast, sightings in Howe Sound and the surrounding Strait of Georgia are becoming more and more common, though still not near the levels of yesteryears.
Luckily, humpback whales on our coast are no longer threatened by whaling activity, but they still do face many threats. In a busy area like Howe Sound, vessel traffic with its accompanying potential for disturbance and ship strikes are a concern. If you are a boater, it is essential to use caution when using areas frequented by cetaceans like humpback whales, including Howe Sound. Last year, we reported on a well known humpback whale that was struck by a vessel. Let’s ensure something similar does not happen to Cassiopeia! Find the Be Whale Wise guidelines here to learn about safe marine wildlife viewing, and check out MERS’s new “See a blow, Go slow” campaign.
Help us and our colleagues monitor humpback whales in B.C. by submitting your sightings to the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network. You can report online here, via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or through our toll-free number (1 866 I SAW ONE).
Learn more about the comeback of humpbacks in Howe Sound: