Gray whale spotted

A local photographer has spotted some beautiful gray whales

It appears there is an unusual visitor in these here parts.

An Eastern Pacific grey whale has been spotted repeatedly in the Port McNeill/Hyde Creek area.

It’s likely there are residents on Malcolm Island and Alert Bay that have also seen him/her and that people may also be confusing the grey whale for a humpback whale.

Grey whales reach a length of 14.9 metres (49 ft.), a weight of 36 tonnes (40 short tons), and live between 55 and 70 years. Their name comes from the grey patches and white mottling on their dark skin.

While it’s common to see grey whales on the outside of Vancouver Island, “it is quite rare to have repeat sightings of an individual on northeast Vancouver Island,” says Jackie Hildering, humpback whale researcher and education director for the Marine Education and Research Society.

“We do have a few that transit through the area to or from the breeding grounds in Mexico. Like humpback whales, they feed in our cold, rich waters,” Hildering said.

“We did have one individual nicknamed ‘Dusty’ that was around for several months in 2010 and then for a few sightings in 2011. Grey whales can be identified as individuals by their flanks (sides) and their tails.

“We at the Marine Education and Research Society have looked at Steve Jackman’s photos of the grey whale seen these last few weeks and know definitively that it is not Dusty again,” she said.

As well as feeding on mysids in the water column, grey whales are the only whales in the world that feed by sticking the side of their heads in the sand and drawing in sand and ghost shrimp, polychaete worms and amphipods.

“Unlike other baleen whales, grey whales are bottom feeders and use their coarse baleen to strain out small invertebrates (amphibods, ghost shrimp, crab larvae) from the soft muddy bottom in shallow areas, leaving mouth-sized depressions in the sediment. Grey whales also feed on herring eggs and larvae in eelgrass beds,” said Hildering.

Since grey whales are so often in the shallows, feeding in sand, vessel strike is a real concern. This grey whale has been very near shore around Port McNeill/ Alert Bay/Sointula in the few patches of sand we have.

“It is unlikely that boaters would expect the whale suddenly to pop up. Hence the need to be alert for the possible presence of a whale near shore and to ‘See a Blow? Go Slow!’