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General News · 4th February 2021
Marine Education & Research Society

From whaling to revered neighbours: we've chosen Nick, Splashy’s mother, for this week’s #WhoIsThatWhaleWednesday. Her story leads to reflection on our whaling past and how fortunate we are to have a second chance with Humpback Whales.

Nick, or BCX0565, is nicknamed for the distinct U-shaped notch in her dorsal fin. This adult female has been documented by MERS since 2003. She has had at least 3 calves. Splashy, born in 2020, is her latest offspring. Thanks to Happywhale, we know she was documented in Hawaii in February of 2013 and 2018. Like many other Humpback Whales off our coast, she bares scars from a boat propeller.

Nick is most often sighted in the Campbell River area, more specifically around Quadra and Cortes Islands. Locals from the area can testify to the increase in Humpback Whales over the last few years, but large whales were a rare sight in the area even just a decade ago. And yet, the main community on Cortes Island is called Whaletown. What does this reveal?

Whaletown was the site of the very first whaling station along BC’s coast back in 1869, when James Dawson and Abel Douglass launched the Dawson and Douglass Whaling Company. The station was in operation for only a year. 14 Humpbacks were killed and processed at the Whaletown whaling station, producing over 450 barrels of oil that were shipped to Victoria and San Francisco.

It is worth reflection that no one was studying Humpbacks as individuals until more than a 100 years later. Thereby, what may have been interpreted by whalers as there being MANY Humpbacks in this area – and therefore worthy of a whaling station –, was actually sightings of the same whales over and over again. We know this to be the case today: the same individuals, like Nick for instance, are seen in the same area again and again.

In 1870 the company moved its operations to Hornby Island, to a location still known today as Whaling Station Bay. By 1871, increased competition and a decrease in the number of whales in the Strait of Georgia led to the company’s liquidation.

Commercial whaling in Canada only stopped in 1967, nearly 100 years after that first whaling station in Whaletown opened. In a single century, we came very close to wiping out these large whales we know so little about. In half a century, we have gone from whaling to marvelling at whales and wanting to protect them.

Thank goodness for second chances. We still have much to learn about Humpback Whales. Studying them as individuals as we do allows for understanding of their movements, area use, behaviours, associations, feeding strategies, diet, family ties, survival rates, injuries, etc. So important too, is that it increases how we care about whales as individuals; as neighbours who return to feed to specific areas on our coast year-after-year.

Learn more about how you can help at:


#whoisthatwhalewednesday #humpbackwhale #whalinghistory #photoidentification #marinebiology

Sources / more information:

Nichol, L.M., Gregr, E.J., Flinn, R., Ford, J.K.B., Gurney, R., Michaluk, L. and Peacock, A. 2002. British Columbia commercial whaling catch data 1908 to 1967: A detailed description of the BC historical whaling database. Can. Tech. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 2371. 77 pp.

Merilees, Bill. The Humpback Whales of Georgia Strait (1985)

Photos: Data contributors Kurt Staples and Marilia Olio and Christie McMillan, MERS taken under research license MML-42.