SEATTLE – The video shows an exceptional wildlife sighting for a big city: A humpback whale surfaces just yards from Seattle’s busy waterfront at twilight. The city’s port cranes, Ferris wheel and car headlights glow in the background, and a ferry cruises by while the giant tail disappears back into the Puget Sound.
Whale watchers say the recording, shot in early May and confirmed by the conservationist group Orca Network, highlights an increase in humpback sightings in the Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca.
“Fifteen years ago, it was unheard of,” said Brian Goodremont, who is the president of the Pacific Whale Watch Association and runs San Juan Outfitters. “Now they’ve become a regular sighting in spring and fall.”
The ocean mammals visit Washington waters in the spring and fall as they migrate from southern Pacific winter waters to summer feeding spots off Alaska.
The whales that make the north Pacific Ocean their home are making a comeback, and conservationists say the increased sightings are proof that their efforts are working.
According to Cascadia Research Collective, the number of humpback whales off the U.S. West Coast has increased about 7 percent annually to about 2,000 animals, while the whales who visit Washington’s coast can number in the hundreds.
Experts believe there could be more than 22,000 humpbacks in the greater northern Pacific Ocean, up from about 1,500 in the 1960s, when whale hunting was banned in the U.S.
The whales visiting Washington waters mostly stick to the open ocean, about 20 miles offshore at least, or concentrate at the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to feed.