Jackie Hildering, whale researcher with the Marine Education and Research Society, and Nanaimo Area Land Trust will present the Return of Giants, a webinar about the humpback whales’ return from the brink of extinction and how boaters can help protect them. (Jackie Hildering/MERS photo taken under Marine Mammal License MML-42)

Jackie Hildering, whale researcher with the Marine Education and Research Society, and Nanaimo Area Land Trust will present the Return of Giants, a webinar about the humpback whales’ return from the brink of extinction and how boaters can help protect them. (Jackie Hildering/MERS photo taken under Marine Mammal License MML-42)

‘Return of the Giants:’ B.C. getting 2nd chance to coexist with humpback whales

‘Marine Detective’ partners with Nanaimo stewardship group on webinar

A whale researcher will ask British Columbians to be good neighbours to marine giants in an upcoming webinar presented by Nanaimo Area Land Trust.

Jackie Hildering, humpback whale researcher in Port McNeill, will explain how humans can help protect humpback whales in the Return of Giants, a webinar about getting a second chance with the whales that she says came close to extinction before numbers rebounded.

Hildering said data is poor on how many whales there were when whaling was halted in Canada in 1966, but “sightings were the exception” along the B.C. coast up into the 2000s when their numbers rose from an estimated seven humpbacks sighted in 2003 to 96 counted in the waters of northeast Vancouver Island in 2019.

“It truly is a second chance and it’s not just population growth post-whaling. They’re also shifting from somewhere…” said Hildering, who is director of education and communications for the Marine Education and Research Society. “We don’t know where that shift is from and what that means in terms of climate and/or prey, so this is a unique chance to learn so much.”

She said there’s knowledge to be gained about climate, ecosystems, social associations and feeding strategies from the whales, which can rest just below the water’s surface or surface unexpectedly after very long dives.

“What has also become so incredibly necessary is boater education,” Hildering said. “[Humpbacks] are a game changer for all flavours of boaters on our coast because they’re giants. The mature females are as big as big as school buses.”

Humpback habits, physical size and even how they sense their environment is different from orcas and dolphins that hunt with their natural form of echo-locating sonar that allows them to track and pinpoint prey and other objects, such as boats.

“[Humpbacks] don’t have the bio-sonar of toothed whales,” Hildering said. “Especially when they’re feeding, having left our rich waters to go to the breeding lagoons of primarily Mexico and Hawaii, they are hungry. They are feeding and they are most often oblivious to boats, so that’s one huge educational need to bring across to people.”

It’s also difficult to portray how high the risks of net entanglement and collisions are, she said, because most whales sink when they die. With no dead whale bodies floating on the water’s surface there’s no evidence of a death, but 50 per cent of the whales studied show scars of boat collisions and net entanglement.

“There wasn’t even the legal obligation to report collision or entanglement up to … 2018 and even Transport Canada hasn’t caught up,” Hildering said. “It will change, but how is even the best-intentioned boater supposed to know about whale behaviour, let alone what the marine mammal regulations are?”

READ ALSO: Half a dozen humpback whales have play day near Vancouver Island shoreline

Hildering is often asked why humpback whales are here, but the better question, she said, is why would humpbacks leave an area where they’re finding food. The whales belong here because the waters around Vancouver Island are rich in the “planktonic soup” they thrive on, the researcher said.

“There’s this thinking that they’re in transit, but what our research supports is these are neighbours that come back to specific spots on our coast year upon year upon year,” she said. “Of the 96 I referenced from 2019, 89 per cent of those were whales we had documented previously. They are specialists in certain strategies for certain prey in this area … knowing what works in a certain area like fishermen and fisherwomen do.”

Hildering, also known as ‘the Marine Detective’ and standup comic of marine conservation, is an educator, cold-water diver and underwater photographer, who has worked on-camera with PBS, BBC and Animal Planet, so next week’s webinar promises to be entertaining and educational, said NALT in a press release. The free webinar will be presented Thursday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. Links to attend the webinar will be made available Monday, Jan. 18. For more information, contact paul@nalt.bc.ca.

To learn more about the Marine Education and Research Society, visit www.mersociety.org and for more information about Hildering, visit www.themarinedetective.com.

READ ALSO: B.C. rescuers, experts concerned about condition of three entangled humpbacks



photos@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

AnimalsConservationEnvironmentresearchWhales

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

Just Posted

Emergency crews help an injured pedestrian who was struck by a vehicle this afternoon. / Patrick Penner Photo
Pedestrian struck close to Mission’s Windebank Elementary School

RCMP, firefighters and ambulance are on scene

Clay _________ was all smiles after bringing up a gun and box of ammo from the bottom of Chilliwack Lake. (Instagram photo)
Chilliwack diver finds handgun and ammunition on the bottom of Chilliwack Lake

Clay Helkenberg has long had a gun on his want-to-find list, and finally checked it off

Cannabis plants visible under bright lights inside a large facility at Shxwha:y Village on July 6, 2018. The reserve was home to the licensed producer for Indigenous Bloom, which opened up a dispensary on the Kwaw-Kwaw-Apilt reserve. On April 12, 2021, Shxwha:y announced Health Canada approval for a licensed production facility at the village. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Chilliwack’s Shxwha:y First Nation approved for cannabis cultivation and processing facility

It will be the first majority-owned Indigenous on-reserve licensed facility in Western Canada

(Pixabay.com)
Mission aiming to become 3rd municipality in B.C. to offer parental leave for councillors

Coun. Mark Davies brings forward motion to develop policy, passes unanimously

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversary of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

Two women walk past ‘The Meeting’ sculptures in White Rock’s Miramar Plaza Wednesday afternoon. (Aaron Hinks photo)
New public art in White Rock faces criticism as the ‘two Michaels’ remain in China’s custody

‘I would encourage people to go out and enjoy it’ said Vancouver Biennale founder

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

Everett Cummings in a tribute video posted to dignitymemorial.com.
Mechanic’s death at Fraser Surrey Docks leads to $200K fine for company, union says

Photos of rally outside Surrey court posted on ILWU’s ‘Kill A Worker Go To Jail’ Facebook page

Richmond RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng said, in March, the force received a stand-out number of seven reports of incidents that appeared to have “racial undertones.” (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
‘Racially motivated’ incidents on the rise in B.C’s 4th largest city: police

Three incidents in Richmond are currently being invested as hate crimes, says RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng

Commercial trucks head south towards the Pacific Highway border crossing Wednesday (April 14, 2021). The union representing Canadian border officers wants its members to be included on the frontline priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Aaron Hinks photo)
CBSA officers’ union calls for vaccine priority in B.C.

Border officers at ports including, YVR and land crossings should ‘not be left behind’

Most Read