This submitted photo shows Paul Cottrell, wearing the red jacket, helping to disentangle a humpback whale.

Humpback whale safety campaign launched as population booms on B.C. coast

‘See a blow? Go slow!’ campaign aimed at protecting boaters and whales

‘See a blow? Go slow!’

That’s the slogan behind an educational campaign developed by the Marine Education and Research Society to prevent potentially catastrophic collisions by boosting boater awareness of the whales surrounding them.

MERS’ education and communications coordinator Jackie Hildering told the Westerly News that B.C.’s once dwindling humpback whale population is surging on the West Coast—rising from seven individuals in 2003 to 86 in 2018—creating a hazardous minefield in local waters.

“I am extraordinarily privileged in having seen the increase of humpbacks on our coast but, with that comes the reality that humpbacks are a game-changer for boaters on our coast and as brilliant as it is that they are back as they are, there is not the public awareness around what it means to have humpbacks back in our waters,” she said.

“In an ideal world we would be able to set up the equivalent of ‘elk crossing’ signs, but that’s very difficult with a marine species.”

She added that humpbacks move differently than the orcas and grey whales that boaters are used to and that collisions can have serious impacts, citing a recent incident where a boater was paralyzed after a crash with a humpback.

“They are, of course, huge and they do not have biosonar as do toothed whales like orca. They are extremely acrobatic and they are most often not going in one direction. Boaters have to be alert on our coast to the fact that they could pop up almost anywhere,” she said.

“It is like running a gauntlet now in many areas of our coast where you have to be vigilant all the time. One would assume that boaters would be like that, but we have found out that this is not the case and that they criss-cross as if nothing would suddenly surface…There’s such a lack of awareness about the number of humpbacks back on our coast that boaters are putting themselves at risk.”

Hildering was speaking from Tofino’s Fourth Street Dock. She was there for the installation of a new educational sign promoting safe boating. MERS has helped install roughly 130 such signs and hopes to have one installed at every dock, harbour and boat ramp on Vancouver Island.

The signs are supplemented by online resources available at www.seeablowgoslow.org.

Hildering added the campaign also includes information around what boaters should do if they come upon an entangled whale.

“We’re desperately trying to educate people that most often if you cut lines at the surface you are cursing the whale because the whale could still be entangled under the surface,” she said.

“Our research, looking at scars on the whales, is that 50 per cent of the humpbacks in B.C. waters have been entangled at some point…This is a huge eye opener about how serious a threat this actually is and of course that’s not capturing how many of them become entangled, die and sink to the bottom of the ocean.”

READ MORE: DFO declares Swiftsure and LaPerouse Banks critical habitats for killer whales

READ MORE: Humpback whale that washed up near Ucluelet had broken jaw

READ MORE: Sea lion shot in Ucluelet euthanized at Vancouver Aquarium



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

From left, Nicole Doe and Jackie Hildering of the Marine Education and Research Society and Michelle Segal of the Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society smile next to a new sign warning boaters to be on the look out for whales while boating. The sign also includes information around entanglements and how to report incidents to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Just Posted

Annual Father’s Day Powwow hosts dozens of dancers from across western Canada

A full weekend of dance, good food and drumming greeted attendees

Dreams come to life in Spirit Awakens at the Station House this month

This month the Station House invites patrons to an exhibit involving the spirit

Blue Fins making final preparations for respective provincial championships

“This was the last competition for any ‘Fins not yet qualified for provincials,” Webb said.

Lakecity youth performers acquitted themselves well at Provincial Festival

The Cariboo Festival Society was proud to see two of its attendees recognized for their work

PHOTOS: Families take to the street at annual Cariboo GM Soapbox Derby

A record number of participants showed up for this event organized by Cariboo GM and the Hooligans

10 facts about Father’s Day

Did you know that the special day for dads was first celebrated in 1910?

B.C. VIEWS: When farmland protection doesn’t protect farmers

Secondary residences aren’t mansions, families tell Lana Popham

Bombers down B.C. Lions 33-23 in season opener

Former Lion Andrew Harris leads Winnipeg with 148 rushing yards

Northern B.C. family remembers murdered Indigenous woman with memorial walk

Still no closure for Ramona Wilson’s family 25 years later

B.C. university to offer mentorship program for former youth in care

Students using the provincial tuition waiver program will soon be able to form a community at KPU

Cyclists competing in one of the toughest bike races on the planet pass through Fernie

Divide riders looking strong as they finish first leg of 4160 km race

You might not know these B.C. records are public

Hired a lawyer to file a civil claim? Those are published online

B.C. bus driver loses case to get job back after texting while driving full bus

An arbitator ruled that Tim Wesman’s phone usage was a “a reckless disregard for public safety”

Revamped B.C. Lions set to battle veteran Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Lions’ first test of the season will be a big one

Most Read