A refuge for whales?

The North Island Whale Heritage Site

When the World Cetacean Alliance announced the designation of Whale Heritage Sites to mark the world's locations where humans and whales are coexisting at their best, the idea couldn't help but capture the interest of the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association.

The result is that North Vancouver Island will likely be home to one of the world's first Whale Heritage Sites. 

The program's goal is to grant status to places around the world where cetaceans are celebrated through art, education, research and cultural events; where sustainable practices ensure the health of cetacean habitats; and where coexistence is supported through law, policy and cooperation.

This mirrors most goals of the North Island stewardship association, and whale researcher Jared Towers believes the designation will only help strengthen the programs already underway.

"We can incorporate a lot of conservation measures into the whale heritage site," he says. "There is a lot that already exists, but it's an excuse for everyone to take an active role in looking after this area even more than we already have."

It's good news for the region's whales, which have already had their measure of prosperity, particularly as the northern resident population of killer whales has seen its population double over the last three decades.

"Basically these animals are recovering from a history of persecution – being shot at and also being captured for the marine aquarium industry," Towers says. "There is still a lot of concern about man-made noise and their environment as well as the availability of fish. These whales prey primarily on chinook salmon and chum salmon in particular, and there's a lot of worry about whether or not they're finding enough food. But when you look at their population trend, that's increasing, so that's a good news story."

Humpback whales are making a similar comeback.

"They really only showed up here 15 years ago and since then we're seeing more and more every year," Towers says.


Photo courtesy Jared Towers

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