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Rare Fin whale surfaces in Strait of Georgia

Sep 21 2012

A massive fin whale cruised up the Strait of Georgia to Johnstone Strait this week for the first time in recorded history.

“It was photographed off Campbell River and off Nanaimo. It is the first confirmed sighting of a fin whale in Georgia Strait,” said Jared Towers, a Fisheries and Oceans cetacean research technician who has spent the summer doing photo identification of the growing number of fin whales in Hecate Strait and Caamano Sound.

Towers is poring through records from whaling days to figure out whether fin whales are expanding their territory or heading back to traditional areas.

The other alternative is that the krill-eating whale was sight-seeing and may not have had any particular reason for taking a look at the Strait of Georgia, he said.

The massive whale turned up in Johnstone Strait Wednesday — one year to the day that two other fin whales turned up in the same area.

That was the first time fin whales had been documented in Robson Bight.

“But this is a different one from the two we saw last year,” Towers said.

The sighting was exciting, he said.

“They are long and snaky. You see one part of their body and then another,” he said.

Fin whales, the second largest animal on Earth after blue whales, are listed as threatened under the Species at Risk Act.

The population is starting to recover after being almost wiped out after decades of whaling, but there is no accurate estimate of how many fin whales are in the Pacific Ocean.

“The population structure is a mystery. Very little is known, but in the last five years they have started to come back,” Towers said.

This summer, Towers photographed 70 individual fin whales as part of the DFO population survey.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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