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 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 Puget Sound and the 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 can grow to be 50 feet long and weigh up to 40 tons. They visit Washington waters in the spring and fall as they migrate from southern Pacific winter waters to summer feeding spots off Alaska.
Decades ago, humpbacks visiting inland waters were numerous enough that whaling operations were based in the northern Puget Sound.
Hundreds of the animals were slaughtered, said Cascadia Research Collective’s baleen whale researcher John Calambokidis.
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.
Humpbacks have been reported to go as far south as Tacoma and Hood Canal.