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

The COVID-19 outbreak at the two Coastal GasLink workforce lodges has officially been declared over. (Lakes District News file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Coastal GasLink worksites declared over

In total, 56 cases were associated with the outbreak in the Burns Lake and Nechako LHAs

Toronto-based director Michelle Latimer was recently scrutinized after years of claiming she was of Algonquin and Metis descent. (CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)
Haida activist calls for hefty fines, jail time against those who claim to be Indigenous

Filmmaker Tamara Bell proposing the Indigenous Identity Act – to dissuade ‘Indigenous identity theft’

Brett Alexander Jones is wanted on several warrants province-wide, in connection with multiple charges. Jan. 21, 2021. Kitimat RCMP photo
Kitimat RCMP searching for man wanted on several warrants province-wide

Jones is described as a five-foot 10-inches Caucasian man, with blond hair and blue eyes.

Administering naloxone to a person experiencing a benzo-related overdose event won’t help. Naloxone is used to neutralize opioids. (Jenna Hauck/The Progress file photo)
Northern Health warning drug users of potential benzo contamination

The drug does not respond to naloxone, and is being included in street drugs

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. in 2018. The First Nations Leadership Council says an attempt by industry to overturn the phasing out of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands in contrary to their inherent Title and Rights. (THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward photo)
First Nations Leadership Council denounces attempt to overturn salmon farm ban

B.C.’s producers filed for a judicial review of the Discovery Islands decision Jan. 18

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

More than 100 B.C. fishermen, fleet leaders, First Nations leaders and other salmon stakeholders are holding a virtual conference Jan. 21-22 to discuss a broad-range of issues threatening the commercial salmon fishery. (Black Press file photo)
B.C. commercial salmon fishermen discuss cures for an industry on the brink

Two-day virtual conference will produce key reccomendations for DFO

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Most Read