Whale Watching tour operators from San Francisco to Vancouver to New York ecstatic as hundreds of Humpback whales appear.
Unprecedented reports of Humpbacks is proof something has dramatically changed in their normal offshore habitat.
Coinciding with the Humpbacks coming ashore is the collapse of the plankton blooms in their distant offshore ocean pastures leaving the shoreline blooms the last of their once abundant ocean food supply.
Beginning last summer in Alaska and British Columbia an unprecedented number of great whales have been found dead on beaches. Where nary a single dead whale is found each year or two in the remote region scores of dead whales have been found and surely many more deaths have gone uncounted.
We can and must restore their ocean pasture.
Whale watchers from San Francisco, Seattle, and British Columbia (and New York City) are reporting an unprecedented number of sightings of North Pacific humpback whales this summer. To their delight they are watching not just one or two whales in any one spot, but large groups of up to 15 or 20 together.
“It’s humpback heaven out there right now,” said Michael Harris, executive director of Pacific Whale Watch Association, a trade group that represents 38 tour operators in Washington and B.C. “About 20 years ago or so, we never saw humpback whales out there. The last three or four years, our crews started to see them all the time.”
Natural and un-natural history
The North Pacific Humpback Whales are famous for their aerial displays often seen on their breeding grounds in the waters of Hawaii. Each winter they have delighted winter tourist/snow birds. But come spring and the Humpbacks migrate from Hawaii to Alaska, or at least that is what they used to do.
Many of the great whales live for far more than a century. Not so long ago, not even 50 years ago, they were ruthlessly hunted to near extinction. There are whales alive today that were born before Herman Melvilles novel Moby Dick was written. Tragically even today some whaling nations persist in taking Humpbacks.
Humpback whales have for some few decades enjoyed a degree of protection from whalers and have begun to recover some of their numbers. From a low of perhaps 20,000 individuals (worldwide) they are now estimated to number some 60-80,000. We might expect to be seeing more of them but ordinarily they are rarely seen save on their Hawaiian nursery pasture or far to the North in the remote rich plankton pastures that line the coast of Alaska. Now they have appeared in great numbers in the inland waters of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea off Vancouver Canada.
Trouble in Paradise
This past winter Hawaiian whale watchers were stunned when reports surfaced that thousands of Humpback whales failed to show up on schedule. They were weeks to months late showing at all. In the end the winter 2015/2016 count of Humpback whales in Hawaii was the lowest in more than a decade.
Well before the reports of missing whales in Hawaii news surfaced of a great dying of Humpbacks beginning in the early summer of last year in Alaska and the neighbouring coast of Canada.
Beginning last summer in Alaska and British Columbia an unprecedented number of great whales were found dead on beaches. This summer has already started out in a terribly similar fashion with multiple reports of great whale deaths again starting to come in from Alaska.
It’s not just the Pacific, similar reports of mass dyings of great whales are coming in from around the world. As beautiful and wonderous we find the Great Whales to be seeing them close to us tells us something is terribly wrong in their world.
In 2015 the whale science and watcher community was shocked when reports of finding 45+ Humpbacks and rarer Fin and Sei whales were found dead along the coast of Alaska. Experts in Alaska reported normally they will see one dead great whale only once every 2-3 years! So the mass die off of great whales is unprecedented.
The dead whales have all been very skinny and clearly in very poor health. Many more dead whales were reported along Canada’s west coast. Given the extremely remote character of the Alaska and British Columbia coastline experts agree the death toll is certainly much higher. This year more dead Humpbacks and Fin whales are being found in Alaska, 15 so far, the most recent at the end of June and another, named Festus and beloved by tourists in Glacier Bay Park for 44 years, on the first of July. This expanding death toll add strength to the most obvious explanation that they are simply unable to find sufficient food and are starving to death.
Experts agree that the Humpbacks are in the shallow inland and coastal waters like San Francisco and Seattle because the plankton that is their food is abundant in those fertilized/polluted near-shore ocean waters. The same is happening in other ocean regions where offshore pastures have become blue deserts. New York City is alive with talk about the huge numbers of Humpback whales seen from its beaches!
At the same time the collapse of their usual distant offshore ocean plankton pastures are widely reported to be in cataclysmic collapse and are turning into desolate blue deserts.
The desperate state of forage fish is resulting in the Pacific Fishery Management Council making radical new ecosystem ocean pasture management recommendations.
Tiny forage fish commonly seen in vast schools fish are dependent on a lot of plankton blooming within their ocean pastures. When the forage fish are healthy and abundant they in turn fill the bellies of all marine life especially salmon, tuna, sea lions and sea birds. When they are in decline it means the whole system is in dire straits.
Plankton eating forage fish make up more than a third of global seafood harvests, but very little of this harvest is destined for the human dinner table. Globally, 90% of forage fish that is caught is processed into fish-meal, to be used as protein-rich feed for livestock and pet food.
Following many years of observed steady collapse of the all important sardine stocks and widespread forage fish decline the Pacific Fishery Management Council endorsed a sardine stock estimate late last year of only 378,000 metric tons, just a quarter of the 2006 peak sardine stock of 1.4 million metric tons.
Meanwhile The Stories You Read About This Mostly Just Follow The Money
The focus of attention by watchers is clearly on capitalizing on the wealth of humpback watching they bring with them where tourists can experience them in a 2 hour tour. Researchers can now study them from the comfort of a beach chair and are filing scores of new proposals to fund their research to do so.
“In 20 years of running whale watch tours, I’ve never seen anything like what’s happening right now in Port Angeles,” said Capt. Shane Aggergaard of Port Angeles Whale Watch Company. “I expect these sightings to continue well into the fall. We are doing everything we can to get more boats in the water.”
Global Collapse of Ocean Pastures Forces Ocean Life Into New Habits and Habitats
Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia estimates about 1,600 Humpback whales feed off the west coast of North America, including as many as 500 now off Washington and British Columbia. The animals usually visit from spring to fall before migrating in the winter to warm-water breeding and calving areas.
Senior biologist and Cascadia co-founder John Calambokidis has been studying humpbacks for more than three decades. His team is getting ready to tag humpbacks to track their movements and feeding habits.
He’s sure that the huge increase in the whales in regional waters is not due just to a population boom, but must also reflect a shift in habitat.
“Humpback whales have made a dramatic return to the Salish Sea in recent years and especially this year,” Calambokidis said. “We’ve had lots of humpback whales offshore in past years and now more of them are coming into the inland waters. That’s probably due to the increased numbers overall likely resulting in expanded areas of use, but also something to do with prey availability, which at this point is harder to determine in detail.”
North Pacific Ocean Pasture Productivity Down Nearly 30% Since 1980 — Globally Ocean Down By Nearly 50%
Though almost never seen in the mainstream media the is a widely reported upon global collapse of ocean pasture plankton productivity in obscure ocean science journals even though ocean plankton are the most powerful force of Nature on this blue planet they even protect us from global warming. NASA has repeatedly reported on the decimation of ocean plankton at the startling rate of 1% per year as observed since the early 1980’s when their ocean observing satellites began keeping a detailed inventory of ocean chlorophyll — phyto-plankton. To put that into a context you might be more familiar with that is the equivalent loss of ocean plant life, think of it as an ocean forest or pasture, that would require the eradication of 10 entire Amazon Rainforests on Earth. Note the world is alarmed and at arms over the loss of just 20% of the Amazon forest.
It’s no wonder the Humpback Whales, fish, the sea birds, the sea lions and all of ocean life are reported in the news. Mostly those reports are horrific.
The Good News Is We Can (And Must) Restore And Regenerate The Ocean Pastures Of Whales And Fish
In 2012 I conducted the largest ocean pasture restoration project in history in the North East Pacific. Home of the Humpback and many other species of great whales and myriad other forms of marine life. During the course of the months of study we of course watched for the great whales before and during our successful ocean pasture restoration. Before our work restored and turned the clear blue ocean desert into a rich green oasis of life, some 50,000 km2 we would rarely see signs of a whale, perhaps we would see a distant spume of spray from a single whale, certainly not every day.
Once our work was well underway and the ocean pasture had become a verdant green bloom the great whales appeared in tremendous numbers. On many days and many times each day we would be accompanied by the greatest of the great whales. Many times they numbered by the score so many it was difficult to count them. They had their ocean pasture blooming and swum in from 1000 miles around to feed. On one occasion a pair of Mother Fin Whales, notoriously shy, with their calves swam right up to the side of my research ship.
My captain who was 70+ years of age, and a naturalist by inclination, was jumping in glee on the bow of the boat saying, “In 50 years at sea I’ve never seen anything like this, they are winking at us.”
While my 2012 ocean pasture restoration project was intended to prove my technology and methodology has been attacked by both climate change denialists, dark green organizations who profit from selling doom and gloom, and some establishment fisheries management guilds — IT JUST WORKS!
Bearing witness to the fact that we can immediately restore and regenerate ocean pastures on behalf of all of ocean life and more were hundreds of millions of additional salmon that swam home from my pasture to become the largest catch of salmon in all history.
Join me to restore ocean pastures around the world on behalf of the great whales, the fish, and our grandchildren. DO or DO NOT the choice is yours.
Top image – J. Buckmaster Naturalist Victoria Clipper