mers marine education research society biggs killer whale cruise ship in background

Bigg’s Killer Whale T099D ©Christie McMillan

Reducing Threats

Awareness and action

The importance of whales and second chances

The last whaling station in British Columbia closed in 1967. For decades it was a rarity to see Humpbacks due to the devastation of whaling. Fortuitously, there is now a second chance to ensure their survival and understand their importance.

It is essentail for both boater and whale safety to understand how (1) Humpbacks and other large baleen whales behave very differently than toothed whales like Orca, and (2) this makes them more susceptible to entanglement and vessel strike.

Humpbacks feed in cold water, bulking up to migrate to and from warm water breeding grounds where there is little to no food for them. Their importance includes that when they defecate and urinate, they fertilize the ocean, leading to greater productivity and carbon capture. This is known as the “whale pump”.

Entanglement and Vessel Strikes

Humpbacks are at risk of entanglement and being hit by boats because of their size, behaviour, and that they do not have biosonar like toothed whales. They are often oblivious to boats and fishing gear. It is also significant that boaters and fishers may not know about Humpbacks and/or have misconceptions.

For both whale and human safety, the increase of Humpbacks necessitates boater education and reducing the overlap with fishing gear and vessel traffic. It is the law that accidents must be reported to 1-800-465-4336.

We study Humpbacks’ scars to get a sense of how often they are entangled and/or ship struck. We need to look at the survivors’ scars because dead whales often sink, whereby cause of death can’t be known. If they wash ashore, they may be too decayed to know how they died.

  • Habit (BCX1225) ©Jackie Hildering, MML-001

  • Unknown entangled Humpback ©Phillip Charles

  • Knobby (BCX1587) ©Luke Hyatt

  • Entangled Humpback Cutter (BCX1438) ©MERS, MML-42

  • Humpback Whale calf Wallace with scarring from entanglement and boat propeller ©Ocean Wise, MML-18

See a Blow?
Go Slow!

Ripple (BCX1063) exhaling ©MERS, MML-42

The need to reduce ocean noise pollution

Marine mammals are highly reliant on sound to communicate, rest, mate, establish territory, navigate, socialize, hunt, and avoid predation and other dangers. Human-made noise can significantly impact these life processes and exacerbate the effects of other threats such as reduced prey availability and chemical pollution. Noise pollution results from activities like shipping and resource extraction.

mers marine education research society boat too close to whale

Ripple (BCX1063) ©Marieke Knierim

Prey shortage and climate

The increase in Humpbacks in BC waters is not just population growth. They are shifting from somewhere likely due to changes in prey/climate. This requires precaution in management decisions. Colleagues in SE Alaska studied the impact of the 2014 to 2016 marine heatwave. Humpbacks with decades-long site fidelity to Alaskan feeding grounds were never seen again. Many who returned were emaciated. There were far fewer calves. The impacts were surmised to be from changes to prey due to the heatwave.

mers marine education research society whale lunge feeding many fish

Freckles (BCY0727) lunge-feeding ©MERS, MML-42

Report violations and marine mammals in distress

British Columbia call the Incident Reporting Line 1-800-465-4336 /

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