Fascinating Humpbacks Whales of Great Bear Rainforest

Fascinating humpback whales that call BC’s Great Bear Rainforest home

A region the size of Ireland, Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest is both a commanding coastal landmass and a delicate ecosystem at risk. It boasts both a rich natural history and a storied living and anthropological culture. The area covers a total of 6.4 million hectares, and it’s home to a massive array of diverse flora and fauna – both on land and at sea.

One species that stands out among all the world-class wildlife of the Great Bear Rainforest is the majestic humpback whale. These gentle giants can grow to be 19 metres (63’) in size and weigh a staggering 36,000kgs (40 tons).  Unique in so many ways, they invite us in to take a closer look at their amazing lives and role in our world.

Biological Basics About Humpback Whales

Photo by Mike Doherty

Humpback whales are a type of baleen whale. Their scientific name is Megaptera novaeangliae which translates to “Big wing of New England”. Baleen whales are a type of whale that have baleen plates instead of teeth. These plates are made of keratin, the same material as human fingernails, and are used to filter food from the water. Baleen whales feed on small organisms such as krill, plankton, and small fish. They use their baleen plates to strain these organisms from the water and then swallow them whole. Baleen whales include species such as blue whales, right whales and of course humpback whales.

From the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific to the Arctic, these whales can be found in every single ocean on our planet. They are easily identified by their black upper body with white patches on the underside. Their long pectoral fins also pronounce their presence and can reach up to 5 metres (16’) in length. The small bumps on their heads are called “tubercles” and are highly sensitive to touch, and used to detect sources of food. 


Humpback Whales In The Great Bear Rainforest

Coastal First Nations tell us that Humpback whales have always been a part of British Columbia’s coastal ecosystem. Although the humpback whale is found in every ocean, those that call the waters off British Columbia home, migrate exclusively on a set course from Mexico to Alaska each year. During this migration, they travel up Canada’s west coast to feed on small fish and krill before winter arrives and turning south once again.

If you’re lucky enough to visit Great Bear Rainforest or surrounding coastal regions during these same summer months, you’ll have a good chance of spotting them. By all accounts, the humpback whale is on a comeback and thriving in Great Bear!

The majority of whales from British Columbia migrate to Hawaii, but a small number migrate to Mexico for the winter months, when they mate, rest, and rely on fat stores from the summer months. Males compete for females who are ready to mate since females reproduce every two to three years. The gestation period is almost a year. A newborn calf is about 6 metres (20’) tall, and breastfeeds for approximately six months on milk that is around 50% fat and pink in color.  

Humpback whales are of great significance to the Great Bear Rainforest. Not only do they symbolize a sign of the great diversity in the waters surrounding this ecosystem, but are also an important source of tourism revenue. These whales also play a significant role in our environment’s health by absorbing carbon throughout their lives. After their deaths, this carbon gets settled on the ocean floor with them and is removed from the environment. This is how species like Humpback Whales actually help cool the Earth


How Humpback Whales Impact The Region’s Food Chain

Humpback whales play an important role in the Great Bear Rainforest ecosystem. They are apex predators, meaning that they are at the top of the food chain and have a significant impact on the region’s food web. Humpback whales feed on krill, small fish, and other marine life, which helps to keep populations of these species in balance. Additionally, humpback whales help to maintain the health of the ocean by providing nutrients to the water through their feces. This helps to support a healthy and diverse marine ecosystem in the Great Bear Rainforest.


The Unique Behaviour Of Humpback Whales

Photo by Vivek Kumar

The humpback whales of the Great Bear Rainforest are renowned for their fascinating behaviour. These majestic creatures can be heard singing, and seen breaching, and bubble-net feeding in the waters off the coast. 

For the uninitiated, singing is a complex behaviour that sees males producing long, low-frequency vocalisations to attract females and/or defend their territory. Breaching is when a whale leaps out of the water and then splashes back down. Bubble-net feeding is a unique behavior where whales swim in circles and blow bubbles to create a “net” that traps fish, which they then eat.

These behaviors are just some of the many fascinating things that humpback whales do in the Great Bear Rainforest. 


Whale Watching In The Great Bear Rainforest

Photo by Davide Cantelli


Whale watching in the Great Bear Rainforest is a popular tourist activity that attracts visitors from around the world. The months of April until October are the best months to spot whales in the Great Bear Rainforest and surrounding regions of the western coast. There are plenty of whale-watching tours in northern Vancouver Island. Some options include Ocean EcoventuresMaple Leaf Adventures and Natural Habitat Adventures.


Before you go, some things to keep in mind before you go whale watching:

  • You may encounter a number of other marine mammal species like killer whales, dolphins, and minke whales. Turning your attention to the shoreline, you may even be lucky enough to spot other wild animals in the Great Bear Rainforest like bears and wolves!
  • Bundle up and try to wear waterproof or repellant clothing! Always assume that it’ll be cooler in the ocean waters and be sure to protect yourself from not just the winds but also the sun. 
  • There’s more to your trip than just whale watching! The Great Bear Rainforest is a haven for flora and fauna. It is home to some of the tallest and oldest trees on the planet. Aptly named, it is also home to bear species like the black bear, kermode bear, and grizzly bear. Other animals residing in the vast swathes of this rainforest include wolves, Sitka deer, sea lions, salmon, orcas, mountain goats, a variety of bird species, mountain lions, sea otters, and more!

 Exploring The Migration Patterns Of Humpback Whales In The Great Bear Rainforest

Exploring the migration patterns of humpback whales in the Great Bear Rainforest is a fascinating endeavor. Every year, these majestic creatures migrate thousands of miles from their summer feeding grounds in Alaska and British Columbia to their winter breeding grounds off the coast of Mexico and Central America. During this journey, they must navigate through the complex waters of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Humpback whales use a variety of methods to navigate, including echolocation, which is a type of sonar that helps them detect objects in the water. Additionally, they use the Earth’s magnetic field and ocean currents to help guide them on their journey. The migration patterns of humpback whales in the Great Bear Rainforest are an incredible feat of navigation and endurance.


The Indigenous Perspective On Humpback Whales In The Great Bear Rainforest

The Indigenous peoples of the Great Bear Rainforest have a long and deep connection with humpback whales. For centuries, these majestic creatures have been an integral part of their culture and traditions. The Haida, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Gitga’at, and other First Nations peoples have a strong spiritual connection to humpback whales and view them as sacred animals that bring good luck and fortune. They have a deep respect for the whales and believe that they are an important part of the natural balance in the region.

Are Humpback Whales Facing Threats of Extinction? 

According to the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, Humpback whales are currently listed under the ‘least concern’ category. However, it wasnt that long ago (as recently as 1988), that they were in fact, endangered.

Promisingly, as of 2018, there are now about 84,000 individuals thriving in oceans around the world. Yet the job is far from done, to conserve these majestic giants, governments the world over are making great efforts in the form of protected areas for whales, harvest management plans, international legislation to educate the general public about the importance of whales, and extensive studies on their behaviors and physiology. 


Conservation Efforts For Humpback Whales In The Great Bear Rainforest

In recent years, local conservation efforts have been put in place to protect humpback whales in the Great Bear Rainforest. The Canadian government has implemented regulations to reduce noise pollution from ships, as well as restrictions on fishing and hunting in the region. Additionally, there have been efforts to create protected areas for humpback whales, such as the Great Bear Rainforest Marine Protected Area. These conservation efforts are essential for ensuring that these whales will continue to thrive in the region for generations to come.

In recent years, First Nations people have been actively involved in conservation efforts to protect humpback whales in the Great Bear Rainforest. They have worked with government agencies to implement regulations to reduce noise pollution from ships, as well as restrictions on fishing and hunting in the region. Additionally, they have been involved in creating protected areas for humpback whales, such as the aforementioned Great Bear Rainforest Marine Protected Area. 

From their cultural significance, their role in the ecosystem, it’s clear that these majestic creatures are well-adapted to the Great Bear Rainforest and play an ever-important role in the region’s health.  


3 Commonly Asked Questions About Whales in the Great Bear Rainforest

When is the whale watching season in BC?

The months between April to October are considered the whale watching season in British Columbia as thousands of whales make their way to Canada’s western coast. 

What animals live in the Great Bear Rainforest?

The Great Bear Rainforest is home to spectacular wildlife like the rare Spirit/Kermode bear, grizzlies, black bears, beavers, orcas, humpback whales, deer, wolves, cougars, sea otters, sea lions, and more.  

How long is a whale watching trip?

An average whale-watching trip can last anywhere between 3 to 8 hours, depending on the type of whales and the navigation required to spot them.

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