Langara Fishing Adventures


201-4440 Cowley Crescent
Richmond, BC
Canada V7B 1B8

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YVR South Terminal trip departure.

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Whale Watching: Humpback Whales

Humpbacks Making a 'Splash' at Langara Island

by John Ford and Graeme Ellis, Pacific Biological Station

Long-time visitors to Langara Island may have noticed that humpback whales seem to be more and more common in the area in recent years. We have been studying whales around the Island since 1990, based out of Langara's lodges, and can confirm that this is true.

In the early years, it would be rare to see more than 10 different whales in a single day. Nowadays, it's unusual NOT to find that many humpbacks in a day, and on big days we might run into 50 different whales in the Langara area.

The key to our studies of humpbacks is individual photo-identification. Each whale has a unique pigmentation pattern on the underside of its tail flukes — some are mostly black, some are mostly white, and many have a mixture of black and white.

These patterns, plus various nicks and scars on the tail, make a photograph of the flukes — taken from behind when the whale dives and lifts its tail — the equivalent of a human 'mug shot'.

By examining these photo-IDs we can determine how many different whales use an area, how many return each summer feeding season, and what other areas they visit.

So far, we have identified a total of 540 individual humpback whales over the past 15 years at Langara Island. Many of these have been ID'd only once, but some are regulars and are seen each season.

This year and last, we have been working together with over 200 whale researchers from around the Pacific Rim in a major international study of humpbacks in the North Pacific.

This project is called SPLASH (which stands for Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance, and Status of Humpbacks). Our goal is to learn as much about humpbacks as possible, using photo-ID and skin biopsies (small samples for genetic studies), over a three year period.

Last summer we identified 103 humpbacks in the waters around Langara Island, the key humpback habitat in BC, and this year we hope to meet or beat that total.

These IDs will be matched against IDs taken in other regions throughout the North Pacific to determine migration patterns, rates of movement of humpbacks between feeding areas, and other biological information that is important for whale conservation.

Humpbacks seem to be recovering well after near decimation from whaling, which ended in 1966. Hopefully this trend will continue and they will be downlisted from their current 'Threatened' status in the not-so-distant future.

Langara Field Guide
Why Langara Island?

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Langara Island
Langara Field Guide