While not a current threat in Canadian waters, historically, whaling has had a huge impact on whale populations and is the main reason that many whale species are endangered today.
Pre-industrial whaling began in the 1800s, when whalers used sailing ships and hand-thrown harpoons to hunt grey whales and North Pacific right whales.By the end of the 19th century, these two species of whales had already been depleted to the point that they were no longer commercially viable. In 1905, the Pacific Whaling Company (PWC) was established with a head office in Victoria, BC to catch the many species that were still common. The PWC, using modern steam ships with explosive harpoons, built the first modern whaling station in Barkley Sound at Sechart, where whales were brought to be rendered. In 1907, a second whaling station opened in Kyuquot Sound, and a third station opened in Page’s Lagoon (now Piper’s Lagoon) at Nanaimo to catch humpback whales that wintered in the Strait of Georgia. However, by 1909, this population of 95 humpbacks had all been caught and the whaling station at Page’s Lagoon closed. It has only been in the past few years that a few humpbacks have been seen regularly in the Strait of Georgia.
From 1908 to 1910, 1241 whales were taken to Kyuquot and Sechart and this success spurned the Pacific Whaling Company to open two more stations in the Queen Charlotte Islands. In 1910, PWC opened Rose Harbour on Kunghit Island, the southern-most island in the Queen Charlotte Island chain, and in 1911, the Naden Harbour whaling station opened at the northern end of the Queen Charlotte Islands. By 1925, recession and a glut of whale oil closed both Sechart and Kyuquot whaling stations.
Whaling recovered and Naden and Rose Harbours continued to catch whales until the Second World War, when whaling ceased whaling from 1943 to 1948. Rose and Naden Harbours closed permanently.
Coal Harbour, in Quatsino Sound, opened in 1948 and caught over 10,000 whales over the next 20 years.
From 1907 to 1967 these five stations caught at least 24,249 whales. By time it was becoming very hard to find many species of whales and a world-wide moratorium on whaling was instituted by the International Whaling Commission. Many species are still recovering from whaling. The last right whale seen in BC waters was in 1951. It was accidentally caught by a whaling ship and taken to Coal Harbour. There are now fewer than 100 North Pacific right whales left. Some species, however, are slowly recovering. There were well over 10,000 and possibly many 10’s of thousand humpback whales in the north Pacific prior to commercial whaling. After whaling ceased in 1965, there were fewer than 1400 humpback whales. Since then they have recovered to at least 5,348 whales, according to SPLASH, a recent international study of humpback whales. It’s possible that humpback whales will be removed from the list of threatened species and down-graded to special concern in the future if the upward population trend continues.