LUKE HYATT PHOTO MOTHERSHIP ADVENTURES This photo was taken by Luke Hyatt on Sept. 30 in BC’s Central Coast near Aristazabal Island.

Injured whale helps raise awareness

Knobby’s injuries may have resulted from a vessel collision

A graphic photo of a humpback whale with part of its lower and upper jaw missing, captured near Aristazabal Island on B.C.’s Central Coast, is helping to raise awareness of the risk of whale and vessel collisions.

The photo was taken in late September, by Luke Hyatt of the eco-tourism company Mothership Adventures, and has since been widely shared online by whale researchers hoping it will help educate boaters.

“We have checked in with fellow researchers and we can’t say definitely this is a vessel strike injury because nothing like it has been seen before,” said Jackie Hildering, communications director for the Marine Education Research Society (MERS) and also an underwater photographer known as the Marine Detective.

“But the consensus is that it’s hard to imagine it’s anything else,” she added.

Researchers from the North Coast Cetacean Society (NCCS) have identified the whale from photographs as one they know well and have nicknamed “Knobby”.

Hidlering noted that although “it is hard to imagine that a whale would be able to survive this kind of injury” researchers remain on the lookout for the whale.

RELATED: Risk of whale and boater collisions remains high

Humpback whales have rebounded throughout BC’s coast, since the end of commercial whaling in 1965.

“We are so fortunate to have these giants back, but it’s a game changer that necessitates increased awareness for us all,” said Hidlering. “This is a reality we need to consider on our coast – that there is a greater overlap between vessel traffic and the presence of whales.”

Hildering said humpbacks are far more at risk of being hit by boats than orca, because of their size and lack of bio-sonar.

This makes humpbacks incredibly oblivious of boats and where they can surface is also very unpredictable because their dives can be long and they often feed and travel in random patterns.

Hidlering noted that if Knobby’s injuries were the result of a collision it would have most likely been with a large vessel.

“They certainly should have been aware they were in an area with a lot of whales,” she said, adding “This is problematic because large vessels can’t divert course immediately.”

She said the lack of awareness about the risk of collisions is apparent in boater behavior, and that for smaller vessels the safety risk is significantly greater.

“I’ve heard from people who’ve said ‘oh I thought the humpbacks are gone now – they are not,” said Hildering, adding that she’s heard of many close calls on North East Vancouver Island, one of which resulted in a man needing 15 stitches on his chin and his pregnant girlfriend breaking three ribs.

“We have whales we see with great regularity who don’t have scarring, and then suddenly we see they have scarring, so somebody hit the whale and it wasn’t reported,” she said.

Hildering said she is grateful to those who have reported Knobby’s injuries and that “there is a record of this whale being injured.”

Knobby has been well known to NCCS since 2013 and has come back to BC Central coast fo feed every year. “If he or she doesn’t show up next year, it is impossible to know whether that confirms the whale has died or if it’s somewhere else,” said Hidlering.

She explained that it’s difficult to know the population impacts of collisions because if accidents go unreported and whales die most often their bodies sink to the ocean bottom, unbeknownst to anyone.

Reporting collisions may also help reduce the risk of future collisions from occurring.

“It is really important to know how these incidents happen or when these incidents happen to get an understanding of locations and circumstances where there is a human and whale safety risk,” said Hildering.

Hidlering said she hopes the federal government will announce amendments to the Marine Mammals Regulations that would require reporting to DFO of any accidental contact with a marine mammal including instances of entanglement or collision, as there is no such requirement in the current regulations.

By Hildering’s estimation, Knobby’s photo has reached over 100,000 people online and has been shared internationally.

“What is extremely heartening, and is why we put that horrific photo into the world, is just how much awareness it has led to,” she said adding, “This poor whales plight has led to greater awareness around the risk of collision with humpbacks.”

To learn more about boater and whale safety visit seeablowgoslow.org or to report collisions or sightings of injured or entangled whales call DFO incident line at 1-800-465-4336.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Port Hardy RCMP station. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Crime stats: Assault files rise over the summer in Port Hardy

’ … we really did see an increase in criminality’

BC ELECTION
Liberal and NDP leaders’ election tours swing through North Island

Wilkinson holds forestry rally and Horgan talks wild salmon

“Keep Christmas local,” said group organizer Tamara Meggitt. (Facebook images)
Coronavirus or no coronavirus, the Christmas markets must go on! Just, differently

Online groups are connecting small vendors with Christmas shoppers

Black Press file photo
Additional charges approved from February drug bust in Port Hardy

‘Back on Feb. 17, RCMP members noticed a vehicle parked on Highway 19 Southbound just after midnight’

Flash frozen prawns still sitting in cold storage. (BC Prawns image)
Three million pounds of flash frozen, delicious prawns sitting in cold storage

Global demand for the B.C. specialty plummeted as the COVID-19 pandemic grew

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

(File photo)
RCMP: Two men face charges in reported Parksville fatal hit-and-run

Investigation into man’s death began in August of 2019

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Steven Michael Bacon pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder of Nanaimo teen Makayla Chang. (Photos submitted)
Accused pleads not guilty in Nanaimo teen’s 2017 murder

Steven Bacon appeared in Nanaimo court Monday via video link from Thunder Bay

Most Read