WASHINGTON, USA — New data shows a record number of local whale sightings in 2021, and experts say that bodes well for 2022.
According to data compiled by the Pacific Whale Watch Association, there were a record number of whale sightings in the Salish Sea in 2021 - about three per day on average, and at least one whale sighting on almost every day of the calendar.
"Based on reports from professional whale watchers, regional sightings groups, and shore-based observers, Bigg’s killer whales were documented in the Salish Sea during 1,067 unique sightings across 329 days," the PWWA said in a release. "The previous record, set in 2019, was 747 unique sightings. In contrast, salmon-eating Southern Resident killer whales were documented on just 103 days, or 28% of the year."
There are about 90 species of whales all over the world, and for many of them, food isn’t a problem.
Erin Gless, executive director of the PWWA, told KING5, "Bigg's Killer Whales eat seals and sea lions; humpback whales and the Minke whales eat fish; gray whales feed on shrimp. So they really love Puget Sound."
Bigg's (or transient) killer whales had a pandemic baby boom - 11 of their calves were born last year.
“It’s crazy to think that whales like Kittiwake have given birth to so many babies given that the gestation period for orcas is 16-18 months - almost twice that of a human”, said Erin Gless, executive director of the PWWA. “The calf looked great and at one point adorably seemed to take a turn leading the family.”
Twenty-one humpback whale calves were swimming with their mothers in the Salish Sea last year, nearly twice as many as 2020.
What does this mean for local whales in 2022?
Gless told KING5, "For both the humpback whales and the Bigg's killer whales, (this is) part of a trend. This is just a really big exponential curve. So if everything continues on this path, we're hopeful that 2022 will be very similar."
The news wasn't quite so good for Southern Resident killer whales.
They were spotted above water on just 103 days last year, although there was good news in September 2021, when three of those whales were reported to be pregnant.