Humpback haven

There we were, three intrepid WWFers helping to install a new hydrophone in Cetacealab’s growing underwater listening network in the Great Bear Sea. Perching on slick rocks, bugs buzzing all around us, we helped anchor the solar panel that powered the hydrophone, trimmed branches, secured cables, and spotted Hermann as he dove to complete the installation- all while filming the event for an upcoming video we’re producing on ocean noise.   Earlier that day we’d  seen dolphins and seals, and  a huge colony of sea lions.  But where were the whales?

WWF staff on the boat. © Linda Nowlan, WWF-Canada

Humpbacks were blowing in the distance, and so I sent out ESP signals: please, come for a closer visit. No sooner had I vocalized this thought than presto!- a humpback surfaced beside us, floating, at rest, an utterly absorbing sight. The giant whale slowly drifted by,  caught by the current. Was he watching us, just as we watched him?
After the hydrophone was secured, we motored out of Verney Channel. A trio of Dall’s porpoises leapt in the water. There were humpbacks all around us: blowing, rolling, diving, pirouetting, breaching and slapping their tails. Mikas the dog was our lookout on the boat, when suddenly this whale popped up right in front of us and did a star turn, displaying his unique fluke markings as he took  a deep dive.

© Linda Nowlan, WWF-Canada

Amazing. I have never seen so many whales in one place.
Janie Wray and Hermann Meuters run the research station at Cetacealab, a magical place. Look at the moss-covered baby bear cub on the tree outside their house.

© Linda Nowlan, WWF-Canada

In their eleven years of operation, they have amassed significant whale data. Whales thrive here on abundant food and a clean sea. It’s also a remarkably quiet area, a key feature for whales that rely on sound for many functions.
A few years ago Cetacealab produced a map with the Gitga’at First Nation which showed 180 individual humpbacks, each easy  to distinguish from the markings and shapes of their tails and fins.  This fall, a new version of the map is coming out, with 250 humpbacks.
It’s hard to think that the humpback  whales who are only now recovering after a century of human exploitation are at risk again. The Northern Gateway Project would bring hundreds of oil tankers through these narrow channels and islands each year, right by Gil Island. In addition to the risk of a catastrophic oil spill, the tankers would dramatically increase the whales’ exposure to underwater noise, increase chemical pollution, and increase the risks of ship strikes.
Our submission to the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel (JRP) concluded that the project’s threats to whales were seriously underestimated, especially the risks from noise. We’re not alone in our concerns. Cetacealab produced detailed evidence to the JRP on impacts to humpbacks, fins and orcas.   A new lawsuit also seeks to enforce protection for the humpbacks, challenging the federal government’s delay in producing the recovery strategy required for this species (and three others) under our Species at Risk Act.
A humpback haven for now. Help us make it be for always.
Write your MP and tell them you want them to say “no” to the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline.
Join the Canadians for the Great Bear.
Or text “WWF” to 45678 to make a $5 donation to the campaign.