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

Luke Marston works on the seawolf mask for Canucks goalie Braden Holtby. (Mike Wavrecan photo)
Stz’uminus artist Luke Marston designs new mask for Canucks goalie

The mask features artwork inspired by the Coast Salish legend of the sea wolf

Scott Saywell, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ superintendent and CEO, has seen his contract renewed for four years, the district announced Wednesday. (SD68 YouTube screenshot)
Ladysmith school district renews superintendent’s contract for four years

‘Singing superintendent’ Scott Saywell under contract through 2024-25 school year

Emergency services were on scene at 1st Avenue and Warren Street after a skateboarder was struck by a vehicle. (Submitted photo)
Skateboarder ‘bumped’ by vehicle on 1st Avenue

Emergency services personnel say the skateboarder is uninjured

Parents Robin Ringer and Wyatt Gilmore with the No. 1 baby of 2021 in the Cowichan Valley. They have yet to decide on a name for her. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Chemainus couple excited about having the New Year’s baby for the Cowichan Valley

Recent arrivals from Fort Nelson celebrate their girl coming into the world on Jan. 7

Regional District of Nanaimo’s transit select committee is expected to vote on a recommendation that could see busing between Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley. (News Bulletin file)
Regional District of Nanaimo staff recommending bus route to Cowichan Valley

More than 1,900 survey respondents expressed support for inter-regional transit, notes RDN report

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

Everett Bumstead (centre) and his crew share a picture from a tree planting location in Sayward on Vancouver Island from when they were filming for ‘One Million Trees’ last year. Photo courtesy, Everett Bumstead.
The tree-planting life on Vancouver Island featured in new documentary

Everett Bumstead brings forth the technicalities, psychology and politics of the tree planting industry in his movie

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)

Most Read