It was an exciting summer for our B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network; even though fall has arrived, the excitement isn’t over yet! As many of us return to work and school, it’s important to remember there is still ample opportunity to see cetaceans at this time of year. Two recent sightings near the Vancouver area have reminded us that cetaceans can be spotted anywhere, at any time.

It was deja-vu for the Sightings Network as a familiar humpback whale recently visited the waters of Howe Sound. In September 2014, Cassiopeia, also known by its scientific designation, BCYuk2010#2, was reported by several coastal citizens around Bowen Island. Researchers were able to identify Cassiopeia by looking at markings on the underside of its tail fluke, which is the humpback equivalent of our fingerprints.

Whale watching in B.C.

Researchers identified Cassiopeia by looking at the underside of its tail, the humpback whale equivalent of human fingerprints. Here Cassiopeia spends time in Howe Sound in September 2015. Photo Credit: Credit Kyla Hemmelgarn.

In September of this year, Tessa Danelesko, coordinator of the Sightings Network, opened an email report of a recent humpback whale sighting off Porteau Cove and immediately recognized the w-shaped marking — just like the constellation the whale is named for — on the tail of the sighted humpback. Cassiopeia was back in Howe Sound, exactly one year after its last visit.

Cassiopeia’s return raises more questions than it answers. Through long-term monitoring of the Howe Sound ecosystem, scientists may be able to determine if and why Howe Sound is an important area to humpback whales like Cassiopeia. The success story here is that it was through citizen science that Cassiopeia’s visits to Howe Sound were documented.

Another recent string of sightings hit close to home for a few residents of the lower mainland. On Saturday, Sept. 12, the Sightings Network received reports of a grey whale off Ambleside Park — visible from the living rooms of some North Shore residents. Over the next few days the whale spent time off the Stanley Park seawall, in Vancouver Harbour, and in Indian Arm, leaving the area on September 16, travelling west through English Bay.

Whale sightings off Vancouver shoreline

Grey whales can sometimes be hard to spot, due to their slow moving nature, plus their mottled, barnacle-covered skin can cause them to camouflage along rocky shores. Photo Credit Doug Sandliands.

It’s difficult to say why the grey whale visited the busy waters off Vancouver, but it’s possible it was feeding along waters close to shore. Grey whales’ unique feeding behaviour often brings them within 10 metres of the shoreline to scoop mouthfuls of sand or pebbles which they filter to find their prey: tiny marine invertebrates that live in the sediment.

Grey whale sightings Vancouver

Grey whales feed on small invertebrates that live in sediment like sand or pebbles, which they scoop large mouthfuls of and filter. Here you can see the pits that are left behind from a feeding grey whale. Photo Credit: Nancy Culp Zaretzke.

So what has been learned from these two sightings? Keep your eyes out if you are spending time on or near the water; you never know when your next cetacean sighting could be. If you spot a whale, dolphin, porpoise or sea turtle in B.C. waters report your sighting to our Sightings Network. Every report received helps researchers understand more about where and when cetaceans spend time in B.C. waters.

Reporting is easy with the WhaleReport smartphone app, available for Android devices and iPhones. You can also report by visiting, emailing [email protected], or calling 1.866.I.SAW.ONE.

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4 Responses

  1. Hiram

    I saw some big whale off the Oregon Coast once. I don’t know what kind of whale it was though…

  2. K. Stoubos

    phoned in a sighting of a humpback whale– did you have individual follow it. witnessed a motor boat tailing it.
    around high tide –
    K. Stoubos

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      We don’t have anyone specifically tracking the whale since we’ve been getting accurate reports from various organizations and citizen scientists. The last report we received seemed to indicate the whale was behaving like a typical humpback. Having this humpback spending time so close to a large city and in an area with lots of boat traffic serves as a good reminder that we should all be refreshing ourselves on the Be Whale Wise Guidelines. To minimize disturbance to any marine mammal, stay at least 100m away, slow down (especially in areas where you know whales have recently been spotted), be aware that sightings can happen at any time, and stay out of the path of any animals you may be observing.

  3. Kate Hickok

    On the Oregon coast, the gray whales fed on mycid shrimp, which live in the kelp beds often right off-shore. Many gray whales spend their summers feeding there once the kelp forest has matured. I have also seen them in many locations on the west coast of Vancouver Island scraping the bottom just beyond the surf to eat worms in the sand. They are truely oportunisitic feeders.


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