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

Registered Nurse, Teresa Friesen immunizes Dunrovin resident, Richard Brophy. (Submitted Photo)
Dunrovin residents first to receive vaccine in Quesnel

91 residents in the seniors’ home were given the first dose of their vaccine

The Quesnel Regional Airport hasn’t hosted passenger flights since Central Mountain Air stopped flying into the city in April of 2020 due to a COVID-19 downturn. File Photo
Council trying to attract airlines back to Quesnel

Staff to investigate temporarily waiving landing fees at Quesnel Airport

The KIJHL’s Kamloops Storm players celebrate on the ice at West Fraser Centre after a goal during one of their games in Quesnel in December 2017. Efforts to bring a KIJHL team to Quesnel stalled in 2018 after the league’s executive voted 16-3 against expansion. (Tracey Roberts Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Kangaroos fighting GMHL junior expasion into Quesnel

The Senior AA team sent a letter asking council to not support the non-sanctioned league’s efforts

Newly elected Nazko Chief Leah Stump penned a letter explaining the scope of the project. (Photo submitted)
Nazko seeks approval to build housing for members facing lengthy medical visits in Quesnel

The First Nation is looking to build nine units in West Quesnel to help members staying in the city

The trek was made without spectators on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2021. Organizers are planning a second run for February, when they hope public health restrictions are lifted. (Tammy Raynor - Submitted Photo)
As mushers deliver, sled dog mail run organizers announce second event

The dogs made the trip from Quesnel to Barkerville, delivering envelopes of mail for Canada Post

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at B.C. legislature on the province’s mass vaccination plan for COVID-19, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
COVID-19 quarantine not an option for B.C., John Horgan says

Apres-ski parties increase risk, not interprovincial travel

Worker at Swartz Bay terminal on Monday, January 20, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Former BC Ferries employee alleges he was fired because of his race

Imraan Goondiwala has been granted a BC Human Rights Tribunal hearing

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker have been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
B.C. couple who travelled to Yukon for COVID vaccine ineligible for 2nd dose until summer

The province is ensuring those eligible to receive the vaccine get the second shot within 42 days

(File)
Mask dispute in court leaves Vancouver cop with broken leg

Man allegedly refused to put on a mask and resisted arrest

(Kraft Dinner/Twitter)
Kraft Dinner launches candy-flavoured mac and cheese just in time for Valentine’s Day

Sweet and cheesy treat will be here just in time for the cheesiest holiday of the year

SAR crews worked late into the night Tuesday to rescue an injured snowboarder in North Vancouver. (Facebook/North Shore Rescue)
Complicated, dangerous rescue saves man in avalanche near Cypress Mountain

North Shore SAR team braves considerable conditions to reach injured snowboarder

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
UPDATE: No sign of small plane that went down in waters south of Vancouver Island

Searchers out on both sides of border between Victoria and Port Angeles

Most Read