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‘It’s humpback heaven out there’: Unprecedented sightings of whales in area (PHOTOS)

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SEATTLE — Humpback whales have returned to the Salish Sea waters off Port Angeles and Victoria “with a vengeance,” the Pacific Whale Watch Association said Tuesday.

“It’s humpback heaven out there right now,” said Michael Harris, executive director of Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA), representing 38 companies operating out of 21 ports in British Columbia and Washington. “About 20 years ago or so, we never saw humpback whales out there.  The last three or four years, our crews started to see them all the time.  Now we’re seeing them congregate in these large groups, not unlike what you might see in Hawaii or Alaska….

“They definitely seem to be finding plenty to eat, especially off Port Angeles and Victoria, and that may be a good sign.”

The PWWA said Rhonda Reidy, a 20-year naturalist, marine educator and captain for Prince of Whales Whale Watching in Victoria, will soon be initiating a study on the feeding ecology of these “Comeback Humpbacks” of the Salish Sea.  She believes the recent boom in humpbacks here may be the result of overlapping events.

“First, as the population of humpback whales recovers to pre-whaling levels, the population may be nearing the carrying capacity of the traditional northern feeding areas, with more whales exploring these southern habitats along their migration route,” said Reidy.

The notable absence of Southern Resident killer whales this year is likely a similar concurrent response to changes in this ecosystem, primarily in the distribution and availability of the orcas’ main food source, salmon, Reidy said.