It’s been an exceptionally exciting summer for the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network, and it’s not over yet! As many of us return to work and school, it’s important to remember there is still ample opportunity to see cetaceans at this time of year. In fact, two recent sightings near the Vancouver area have reminded us that cetaceans can be spotted anywhere at any time.

It was deja-vu for the Sightings Network as a familiar humpback whale recently visited the waters of Howe Sound. In September 2014, Cassiopeia, also known by its scientific designation, BCYuk2010#2, was reported by several coastal citizens around Bowen Island. Researchers were able to identify Cassiopeia by looking at markings on the underside of its tail fluke, which is the humpback equivalent of our fingerprints.

In September of this year, Tessa Danelesko, coordinator of the Sightings Network, opened an email report of a recent humpback whale sighting off Porteau Cove and immediately recognized the namesake w-shaped marking on the tail of the humpback that was seen. Cassiopeia was back in Howe Sound, exactly one year after its last visit.

The exciting return of Cassiopeia is raising more questions than providing answers. Through long term monitoring of the Howe Sound ecosystem, scientists may be able to determine if and why Howe Sound is an important area to humpback whales like Cassiopeia. The real success story here is that it was through citizen science that Cassiopeia’s visits to Howe Sound were documented.

Another recent string of sightings hit close to home for a few residents of the Lower Mainland. On Saturday, September 12, the Sightings Network received reports of a grey whale off Ambleside Park – visible from the living rooms of some North Shore residents. Over the next few days the whale spent time off the Stanley Park seawall, in Vancouver Harbour, and in Indian Arm, leaving the area on September 16, travelling west through English Bay.

It’s difficult to say why the grey whale visited the busy waters off Vancouver, but it’s possible it was feeding along waters close to shore. Grey whales’ unique feeding behaviour often brings them within 10 metres of the shoreline. The reason they approach so closely is to scoop mouthfuls of sand or pebbles which they filter to find their prey: tiny marine invertebrates that live in the sediment.

So what has been learned from these two sightings? Keep your eyes out if you are spending time on or near the water – you never know when your next cetacean sighting could be. If you spot a whale, dolphin, porpoise or sea turtle in B.C. waters report your sighting to the Sightings Network. Every report received helps researchers understand more about where and when cetaceans spend time in B.C. waters.

Reporting is easy with the new WhaleReport smartphone app, available for Android devices and iPhones. You can also report by visiting www.wildwhales.org, emailing sightings@vanaqua.org, or calling 1.866.I.SAW.ONE.