A humpback whale emerges from the Douglas Channel.

A humpback whale emerges from the Douglas Channel.

Gil Island popular destination among humpbacks

A new study is shedding light on the humpback whale population in the Douglas Channel around Gil Island.

It’s no fluke.

There’s a growing body of evidence that shows the area around Gil Island is actually a very important habitat for humpback whales.

A scientific study into the abundance of humpback whales was published on September 12, showed that at least in the immediate area of Gil Island, the threatened humpback whale continues to grow at a remarkable pace.

Naturally researchers are now cautioning that industrial development with increased marine traffic could pose a threat to the whales.

The report comes after an eight year study done by researches from the University of St. Andrews, Cetacea Lab, and the Gitga’at Lands and Marine Resources Department.

Among the reports findings are that eight per cent of B.C.’s humpback whale population use the waters around Gil Island, an area which represents just 1.5 per cent of B.C.’s inland coast.

Also, from 2004 to 2011, the number of whales doubled in the area, to an average summer population of 140.

“We just wanted to get a better understanding of which species are in the area, what different parts of the area are they using, and how many there are,” said Chris Picard, science director for the Gitga’at First Nation, in which the territory study took place.

“Down the road we want to, with that better understanding, develop recommendations or strategies that could assist in their conservation,” he added.

The idea to do this study came from anecdotal evidence that there just seemed to be a lot of whales in the area.

Janie Wray, a whale researcher for Cetacea Lab, said they first arrived at Hartley Bay to seek permission to install a whale monitoring station in 2000, and were fortunate to be allowed.

“We built the station on Gil Island and put in a number of hydrophone stations that allowed us to listen to whales,” she said.

“Initially the project, when we first came, was geared more towards Killer Whales and we started to notice all these humpback whales,” added Wray.

“Every year we noticed the population growing and growing.”

She said that between 2004 and 2009, the number of humpbacks, which started at 42 in 2004, had doubled.

The report led the researchers to a few key conclusions.

The first and most obvious, of course, is proof that there are a lot of whales in the area, which is encouraging for the species’ overall recovery.

The other is the realization that Gil Island, researchers see now, is important, likely primarily as a food source for the whales, said Picard.

“There seems to be a particular richness in this area, because compared to other parts of the coast, whales are far more abundant in the area where we studied.”

Wray adds that there could be a social connection for the whales as well which brings them out.

“The amount of singing that occurs between humpback whales in the fall has also increased,” she said. “And I think right now it’s relatively quiet, this is a place they can come, communicate freely, they can find their prey easily by using sound because the ocean is so quiet through these channels.”

Underlying these findings, of course, is the threat that tanker traffic could have on populations.

“Certainly part of the reason we did our study was keeping in mind the proposed developments that would increase shipping traffic,” said Picard. “As many people are aware, increasing shipping traffic does present potential problems for whales in terms of the noise pollution.”

“Then of course there’s oil spills. Oil spills damage all parts of the environment and whales are no exceptions,” he added.

That damage comes from the contact with whales directly and to their food supply, he said.

With such a concentration of whales, researchers also point to the potential of whale strikes against ships.

Researchers are meanwhile beginning to see a bigger picture relating to the fin whales as well, a relative of humpbacks.

The second largest mammal in the world, said Picard, fin whales are seeing a growing abundance in the area, which is actually peculiar because they’re known to be more open ocean whales.

“I’m particularly curious to find out what it is about these waters that makes them so productive,” he said.

Wray is equally excited about learning more as well.

“There’s a big fin whale story going on here. That’s pretty huge.”

Meanwhile researchers continue to collect information, and Wray said she’ll be looking at the social relationship of whales in the area, as well as monitoring the survival of calves after they leave their mothers.

Just Posted

The Sam Lindsay Aquatic Centre will be closed from June 28 until September 13 for annual facility maintenance as well as teach pool and decking repairs. (Black Press photo)
Sam Lindsay Aquatic Centre closed: June 28 – September 13

The aquatic centre will be closed for annual facility maintenance

Shoes are being left at the viewpoint on Haisla Blvd in response to the 215 bodies discovered at the Kamloops Residential School. (Jacob Lubberts photo)
Haisla Nation responds to 215 Indigenous children found buried at the site of Kamloops Indian Residential School

“Many Haisla children were sent far away, to places such as Port Alberni, and to Coqualeetza”

Susan Jay hosted a plant and garage sale on May 25 and donated all of her proceeds to the Kitimat General Hospital Foundation to help with the purchase of a new bus for residents at Mountain View Lodge, Delta King and the new Kitimat Valley Housing Society dementia home. (Barbara Campbell photo)
KGHF thanks Susan Jay for her help to purchase a new bus for seniors in multi-level care

Susan donated all proceeds to KGHF, her efforts netted the hospital foundation a total of $1,760

An example of what a mural would look like on the back wall on Ron’s Bait and Tackle Store which faces the courtyard and sidewall. The mural photos shown here are mock-ups of existing artwork on walls of interest in the downtown core to build anticipation within the community about the concept of murals. The KPAA will not necessarily be using these locations or this artwork for the actual murals. (KPAA photo)
Kitimat Public Art Alliance mural funding request denied

D’Andrea suggested she will come back to the council at a later date with a more concrete plan

L-R: Vanessa Couto, Montana Murray, Connor Best, Dawn Best, Natalia Lopez, Thomas Walton, and Charlotte Collier partaking in the clean-up Kitimat campaign on May 28. (Katie Peacock photo)
Kitimat’s MStar Hotel brings out staff’s competitive clean-up side

The hotel staff circulated the Big Spruce Trailhead and picked up as much garbage as they could

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

A worker, at left, tends to a customer at a cosmetics shop amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Half of cosmetics sold in Canada, U.S. contain toxic chemicals: study

Researchers found that 56% of foundations and eye products contain high levels of fluorine

White Rock’s Marine Drive has been converted to one-way traffic to allow more patio space for waterfront restaurants. (Peace Arch News)
Province promotes permanent pub patios in B.C. post-pandemic plan

More than 2,000 temporary expansions from COVID-19 rules

Most Read