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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

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

A Rick Hansen Secondary School student died in hospital after suffering a medical incident in class on Monday. (File photo)
Abbotsford student dies after medical incident in class

Rick Hansen Secondary School offering additional counselling for students who require it

Stock photo
$93,000 in COVID-19 emergency support available to Abbotsford charities

Applications now open for grants through community foundation

The RCMP helicopter. (File photo)
Suspect escapes after police pursuit through Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford

Police chase involved two stolen vehicles, including one taken in Mission

The Rotary Club of Chilliwack Book Sale is moves from the Chilliwack Mall to allow for physical distancing. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress file)
Rotary Book Sale moves from Chilliwack Mall to Heritage Park

The hugely-popular book sale is going ahead Oct. 25-31 with pandemic protocols in place

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan arrives at Luxton Hall to cast their votes in advance polls for the provincial election in Langford, B.C., Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Pandemic election prompts voter suppression claims by B.C. Liberals

‘These emergencies require in us a maturity that has been lacking in politics for so long’

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of possibly decades-old airplane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of UBC geoscientists discovered the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

Officers with the Lower Mainland Emergency Response Team were at a White Rock home Tuesday (Oct. 20) to assist Vancouver Police Department with execution of a search warrant. (Contributed photo)
ERT, VPD response to White Rock home connected to homicide: police

Search underway in the 15800-block of Prospect Crescent

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

A past extreme weather response shelter set up for women inside Surrey’s Nightshift Street Ministries. (Photo: Chris Paul/nightshiftministries.org)
Homeless people in Surrey face ‘shocking and scary’ scenario this winter

Last winter there were nine Extreme Weather Response shelters in all of Surrey and White Rock. So far, during this pandemic, there are only five lined up for the coming winter

Most Read