Humpback whales were once so numerous in the coastal and inland waters of the Pacific Northwest, there were whaling stations near Nanaimo, British Columbia, and Grays Harbor, Washington. These closed by 1925, after the regional population of humpback whales had been largely wiped out. A century later, humpbacks are resurfacing in big numbers in the Salish Sea, the Columbia River mouth and the Northwest coast. Along with excitement over the humpbacks’ return comes concern about ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. The resurgence even has a catchy moniker: the “humpback comeback.” When I booked a whale watching tour from Port Angeles earlier this month, Island Adventures lead naturalist Erin Gless said I’d have a 92% chance of seeing these large whales. Sure enough, after the Island Explorer 4 motored out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the onboard naturalist grabbed her microphone to announce, “Thar she blows! 10 o’clock, 10 o’clock.” Tour guests crowded the boat’s rails and followed the directional pointer to see a humpback surface with a steamy exhalation, rest for a minute and then dive again. Then the captain spotted another. The vessel cruised onward and found yet another humpback, then several more and […]


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