Whale watch

Posted by Daniel on Feb 19, 2009 - 3 comments

The CBC reports that two newborn killer whales have been sighted near southern Vancouver Island. Why is this a good news story?

Killer whales on the BC coast are divided into several separate populations. Two groups are known as resident whales because they returned regularly to roughly the same geographic areas each year. Northern residents are found in northern Johnstone Strait down as far as Campbell River, while southern residents inhabit the waters off southern Vancouver Island and in Puget Sound in Washington State.

The southern residents number less than ninety individuals. They were hard hit during the 1960s and 1970s when whale wranglers captured many of them for sale to aquariums throughout the world. Scientists have long feared that the southern resident population may have fallen below a sustainable threshold. So the arrival of the two newborns is good news.

Of course, it has to be balanced against the bad news contained in a report from the Fraser Basin Council warning that Fraser River salmon stocks are in dangerous decline. Among other things, this is disastrous for the whales. Wild salmon forms a huge part of a resident killer whale's diet. Would they be able to survive the disappearance of the fish?

Optimists often speak about the bright future of ecotourism on the coast, based significantly on whale watching. But if there is no eco, there can be no tourism. And if there is no salmon, there will be no whales.