A mother humpback whale and her calf swam past our afternoon day trip in the San Juan Islands of Washington just as they launched their kayaks into the water. This is one of several sightings of humpbacks whales in the San Juan Islands and other Salish Sea locations this spring. We hope this will lead to a continued building of their numbers in Washington waters as they recover from persecution and near extinction in the previous century.
Once hunted to the brink of extinction, humpback whales have made a dramatic comeback in most of the world’s oceans. A 2008 study estimates that the humpback population in the North Pacific Ocean hit a low of 1,500 whales before hunting of them was banned worldwide in 1966. In the last four decades that have recovered to a population of between 18,000 and 20,000 in the North Pacific Ocean. It is thought that their original population in the North Pacific was around 125,000 individuals so you see they still aren’t anywhere near fully recovered yet. You can read more about the local Salish Sea whaling impacts in our previous blog entry Humpback Whale Seen on San Juan Island Kayaking Day Trip.
Today, our visiting humpback whales swam past Lime Kiln Whale Watching Park, traveled along our one day trip kayak trip route, and then northwards along San Juan Island, following the exact route that the orca whales usually take, and the same one our multi-day kayak camping expeditions use. Our happy kayaking participants of our two-day San Juan Islands kayaking tour observed the humpback whales far to the north of San Juan Island while they were exploring the outer islands.
Humpback whales are still under threat from proposed whaling by Japanese whalers. Also, as mentioned in our previous blog, the crucial baitfish species that they are utterly dependent on for survival are all declining in drastic and alarming ways in the past couple of decades. And finally, humpback whales are prone to getting entangled in fishing gear and “ghost nets” cast away by fishermen. This just happened a couple of weeks ago on the Washington coast when a humpback whale juvenile got entangled in crab pot lines and needed human assistance to break free.