Marine biologists and fishery officers were in Cowichan Bay and surrounding waters over the weekend looking for a sick humpback whale that was spotted in the area.
The whale was obviously ill when it was first seen on Aug. 20, but it’s been reported that a visual inspection of the marine mammal by a diver at the time showed no obvious injuries or net entanglement.
The whale has not been seen since, and DFO and marine biologists are asking the public’s help in locating the animal.
Lara Sloan, a spokeswoman for DFO, said the whale should not be approached closer than 100 metres if it’s spotted.
She said people should then immediately call DFO’s marine mammal incident report hotline at 1-800-465-4336, or the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604-258-7325.
John Ford, head of the marine-mammal research program at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, was searching for the whale while sailing through Cowichan Bay on Sunday.
He said he has been told that the animal was no larger than five meters long, which would make it a juvenile humpback whale that could be between six months and a year old. Ford said the whale was reportedly in poor body condition and health when it was spotted.
“Humpback whales typically begin weaning away from their mothers before they are one-year old, and they have a high mortality rate in their first year,” Ford said.
“Many of these animals die young, for any number of reasons, with many sinking to the bottom, never to be seen again if their blubber reserves are low. That is unless they die in shallow waters or they have enough gas to keep them buoyant.”
Ford said if the whale is found alive, officials would determine what, if anything, can be done to help it.
However, he said it would be “unprecedented” for a baleen whale to be captured and brought to an aquarium to recover.
Humpback whales have been making a comeback in the waters of the Strait of Georgia in recent years.
By the time commercial whaling in B.C. waters and elsewhere was finally ended in the 1960s, there were as few as 1,500 humpbacks left in the entire north Pacific Ocean.
But there are now approximately 20,000 humpback whales in the north Pacific Ocean, with increasing numbers of them coming into the Strait of Georgia to feed all the time.
It’s estimated that up to 4,000 humpback whales may now regularly visit B.C.’s coast and the Strait of Georgia, particularly in the summer months.