Pshhh Pshhhh! Pshhhhhh! Whales! I woke with a start and peered through the lodge window just in time to see the massive back of a Humpback rise slowly from the water. Rushing downstairs I found several people on the deck, coffee in hand – and eyes glued to the sea. “Third day in a row!” someone said. “Totally amazing!”
It is amazing. This season, almost every kayak trip departing Coast Mountain Lodge has spotted Humpbacks – often more than once – and on several occasions, the school bus size “Humpies” have ventured right into our corner of Evans Bay. It wasn’t always like this: during all of our trips last year, sightings could be counted on two hands – no toes required. But this year, Humpback whales have become talk of the town, with close encounters (some even a little too near!) shared over marine radio waves and in eager discussions at the Surge Narrows post office dock.
If the reason for the increase in whale activity is debatable, blame for their previous decline lies squarely at the feet of us white people. Once numbering more than 15,000 in the North Pacific, the Humpback population was rapidly depleted as whalers enthusiastically speared the friendly giants for their valuable blubber. The Discovery Islands were not immune to the scourge of whaling; the village of “Whaletown” on Cortes Island remains testament to the nearby facility that briefly processed blubber into soap, candles, cooking fat, tallow, and lubricants between 1869 and 1870. The population soon entered full decline, and by the time the Humpback was fully protected in 1966, fewer than 1000 roamed the North Pacific, and the Discovery Islands were home to none.
Such a precipitous population drop might have spelled the end of the Humpbacks, except for some special resilience, or maybe luck. Of only a few good stories to emerge from the sea in recent years, one is news that there are now more than 18,000 Humpbacks in the North Pacific – and at least a few dozen in our area! The exact cause of the humpbacks’ return to the Discovery Islands remains up for debate, but one thing is sure: for kayakers there is no better thrill than watching the amazing beauty of these really big cetaceans …Pshhhh! Pshhhh!