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First humpback mom and calf return to Salish Sea

The first calf, likely about three months old, and its mother, “Black Pearl,” were spotted in Haro Strait last week by Eagle Wing Tours.

It’s a sure sign of spring.

Humpback whales are returning to the Salish Sea from the warm-water birthing grounds of Hawaii, Mexico and Central America with new babies at their sides.

The first calf, likely about three months old, and its mother, BCX1460 “Black Pearl,” were spotted in Haro Strait on April 18 by Eagle Wing Tours of Victoria.

The pair has been seen several times since in area waters, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

“It’s always fun to see which mom and calf will make it back first,” said association executive director Erin Gless. “Black Pearl tends to spend her summers near north Vancouver Island. This year we were lucky enough to spot her in the Salish Sea.”

Humpback mothers give birth in warmer waters and travel thousands of kilometres with their babies to cooler feeding grounds like the Salish Sea, where they feed on small fish and crustaceans through to the fall.

Gless said Black Pearl is known to migrate to the Hawaiian Islands in winter, and has been photographed several times off the coast of Maui.

She has given birth to at least three previous calves, including a male born in 2022 nicknamed Kraken. The sex of her new calf isn’t yet known.

Black Pearl isn’t the only humpback to return so far this year. The Pacific Whale Watch Association reports that local whale celebrity BCY0324, known as Big Mama, is among a handful of others sighted by whale watchers in the past week.

Big Mama is one of the most prolific producers for the Salish Sea, giving birth to seven calves over the years. Big Mama’s first, Divot, was born in 2003 and the most recent, Moresby arrived in 2022.

Her offspring are also prolific, providing Big Mama with at least six “grandcalves” and two “great-grandcalves” so far, said Gless.

Big Mama is part of the population that travels to the Hawaiian Islands during the winter.

She is considered the first whale to help repopulate the Salish Sea after humpbacks were decimated by commercial whaling a century ago.

Big Mama was first spotted near Race Rocks in 1997 and has returned every year since.

Since Big Mama’s first visit, more than 500 individual humpbacks have been documented in the Salish Sea over the summer and fall.

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