VANCOUVER — The agency that represents 29 whale-watching companies in British Columbia and Washington state says its members report 2021 was a record year for whale sightings in the Salish Sea.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association says based on its figures along with data provided by the Orca Behavior Institute in Washington state, Bigg’s killer whales were spotted in the Salish Sea on 329 days last year.

The association says the 1,067 unique sightings of the whales, which are also known as transient killer whales, easily broke the 2019 record of 747 sightings.

It says humpback whales were seen in the Salish Sea on 301 days during the same period, along with numerous sightings of grey and minke whales.

Eleven new Bigg’s calves were also sighted in 2021, including the youngest, first seen near Victoria on New Year’s Eve.

Bigg’s eat mammals, unlike the endangered southern resident killer whales, which rely on salmon and were seen off the B.C. and Washington state coasts on just 103 days last year. 

Despite ongoing concerns about the health of southern resident orcas, Erin Gless, executive director of the whale-watch association, says 2021 was “an exciting and encouraging year for whales in the Salish Sea.”

Gless says they were especially pleased by the arrival of 11 Bigg’s calves and the New Year’s Eve sighting of the youngest, the seventh born to its 37-year-old mother, identified by the association as T124A, also known as Kittiwake. 

“It’s crazy to think that whales like Kittiwake have given birth to so many babies given that the gestation period for orcas is 16-18 months — almost twice that of a human,” Gless says in a statement on the association’s website.

In a separate baby boom, the association reports a record 21 humpback whale calves accompanied their mothers to the Salish Sea from breeding grounds off Mexico, Hawaii and Central America last year, nearly doubling 2020’s count of 11. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2022.

The Canadian Press