Humpback whales in the Puget Sound/Georgia Strait Region.Proceedings of the 2005 Puget Sound Georgia Basin Research Conference, 29-31 March 2005, Seattle, WA

Citation

Falcone, E.A., J. Calambokidis, G.H. Steiger, M Malleson, and J. Ford. 2005. Humpback whales in the Puget Sound/Georgia Strait Region.Proceedings of the 2005 Puget Sound Georgia Basin Research Conference, 29-31 March 2005, Seattle, WA. Proceedings available from Puget Sound Action Team, Olympia, WA (http://www.psat.wa.gov).

Introduction

The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is a moderately large baleen whale that is found in all major ocean basins of the world (Clapham and Mead 1999). Humpbacks typically spend summer months feeding in productive, high-latitude waters then migrate to low-latitude breeding areas in winter, where they mate and give birth (Chittleborough 1958). In the North Pacific Ocean, there are numerous concentrations of feeding whales that range from southern California north through the Aleutian Islands and west to Russia, which migrate to four major breeding areas of Central America, Mexico, Hawaii, and Japan (Calambokidis et al. 1996).
As was the case with large whales throughout the world, humpback whale populations were severely depleted by the mid-twentieth century due to commercial whaling. The North Pacific was no exception, and whaling stations from Northern California to Southeast Alaska reported many thousands of humpback whales taken from the late 1800’s until 1967 when whaling was officially banned in the region due to the collapse of the fishery (Rice 1978, Clapham et al. 1997).

Little is known of the size of whale populations prior to the advent of whaling, although inferences can be made from catch data (Gambell 1976, Rice 1978). Detailed studies of humpback populations in the North Pacific began in the mid-seventies, and from these it appears that this population is slowly recovering, although likely remains below pre-whaling numbers (Calambokidis and Barlow 2004). With this recovery humpbacks are returning to areas from which they were historically reported but have not been seen for decades. The inside waters of Washington State and Southern British Columbia are one such region, and reports of humpback whales there have increased dramatically in recent years after a long absence. Here, we review briefly the history of exploitation, the recent increase in sightings, and the identity of humpback whales in inside waters, which suggest they may be returning to this once-important habitat.

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