No-one knew that Fin Whales had returned to Gitga’at territory until 2006. Before that point, it was believed that whaling had reduced their population to the extent that they were no longer found in Northern BC waters. Since 2006, the number of Fin whales recorded by researchers at Whale Point has increased year to year, giving us hope that the Fin Whale population is gradually recovering to its pre-whaling size.
The abundant, undisturbed waters of the Gitga’at territory are ideal feeding grounds for fin whales, whose choice of prey, krill, thrives in nutrient-rich habitat such as this. Little is understood about the migration patterns of Fin whales, but it is thought that they breed in warm waters during the winter months. Rich feeding grounds are essential for these whales, as they must bulk up to survive the long migration to and from the tropics without food.
Unlike humpback whales, fin whales do not tend towards awe-inspiring behaviours such as breaching, pectoral fin slapping and head lobbing. Fin Whales keep a relatively low profile, despite being more than 20 metres long, however their tall, columnar blows give away their location to those trying to spot them. These whales can move at tremendous speeds, as the fastest species of whale, they are able to swim at up to 29mph.
Unfortunately, due to their speed and size, Fin Whales are susceptible to ship strikes. They prefer to dive in deeper water, which leads to them travelling along the centre of channels, exposed to larger, faster vessels. In areas of high boat traffic, whales can become disorientated due to loud engine noise and end up in the path of a tanker or a cruise ship.
Fin whales use very low frequency calls, below 20Hz, to communicate over large distances. Until recently, the team at Whale Point had never heard fin whales on the hydrophones, as their calls are below the range of human hearing. However, starting in 2016 a “pulse” was heard. These lightsaber-esque calls have only been heard on our hydrophone in Taylor Bight, not in Caamano Sound or Squally Channel. There are many unanswered questions about these heart-jolting pulses, and we are very excited to be gaining an understanding of them. Listen to a Fin Whale pulse below: when you hear them in real-time sometimes they are so loud and thunderous that they shake the lab!