More Whales

September 24, 2023
By Damond Benningfield

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More whales have been sighted in the Salish Sea in 2022 than in recent years past. The increase is likely due to conservation efforts, regulations, and an increase in food abundance. Credit: David Ellifrit, NOAA NMFS

For decades, whales in the Pacific Northwest were declining. Year after year, the populations kept getting smaller. In recent years, though, many of the whales have been coming back. Thanks to conservation efforts and legal protections, the numbers recorded by whale-watching organizations have been going up. In 2022, they even set some records.

Groups monitor populations in the Salish Sea—a narrow band that hugs the coast from central Washington to southern British Columbia. They add up eyewitness reports from commercial whale watchers and others.

Several species of whales inhabit the sea. The list includes humpbacks, grays, minkes, and a couple of varieties of killer whales—Bigg’s and southern residents.

Bigg’s killer whales were seen more often than any of the others—more than 1200 unique sightings. That’s an increase of more than 150 over 2021, and more than double the number in 2017. The jump is largely the result of a more bountiful food supply—seals, sea lions, porpoises, and even other whales. Estimates place the total population of Bigg’s whales at about 370.

Almost 400 humpbacks were seen—the largest number in more than a century. They were reported on more than 270 days—a big jump over the previous year.

And a group of critically endangered southern resident killer whales was recorded on 160 days—far more than average. So they, too, may be making a comeback—more whales for the Pacific Northwest.