Apr 25, 2024 - News

First humpback whale calf of 2024 spotted near Seattle

A mother and baby humpback whale breach side by side in Washington state waters.

Black Pearl and her new calf have been spotted near the San Juan Islands. Photo: Clint William/Courtesy of Eagle Wing Tour and Pacific Whale Watch Association

The first baby humpback whale of 2024 has arrived in the Salish Sea, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA).

Driving the news: The calf, estimated to be 3 to 4 months old, was first seen with its mother, BCX1460 (aka Black Pearl), near San Juan Island on April 18, per PWWA.

  • Big Mama, the prolific matriarch credited with leading the humpbacks' comeback in 1997, was also seen.

Why it matters: Record-breaking numbers of humpbacks and Bigg's killer whales have been sighted in the waters of Washington and British Columbia over the last two years, according to data compiled by PWWA and local whale researchers.

  • The increase has been attributed to the presence of plentiful prey and the impact of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which stopped commercial whaling in the U.S., PWWA executive director Erin Gless told Axios.

Catch up quick: Commercial whaling decimated the Salish Sea humpback whale population in the early the 1900s, when more than 30,000 humpback whales were killed in the North Pacific.

  • Some scientists estimate that the population could have dropped to just a few thousand, per NOAA.
  • Commercial hunts for humpback whales were banned in 1966, and by 1973, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act prohibited hunting and harassment of whales in U.S. waters.

Fun facts: Local humpbacks give birth near Hawai'i, Mexico and Central America and then travel thousands of miles with their babies to cooler feeding grounds like the Salish Sea.

  • The new calf's mom, Black Pearl, is known to frequent the coast of Maui and has given birth to at least three previous calves, including a male born in 2022 nicknamed Kraken.
  • Big Mama has seven offspring, including Divot (born in 2003) and Moresby (born in 2022), as well as six "grandcalves" and two "great-grandcalves," per PWWA.

What they're saying: "For decades after whaling stopped, there were virtually no sightings in inland Washington waters," Gless said, "but that all changed when Big Mama made her first appearance in 1997. She's been returning to the Salish Sea ever since, and now hundreds of humpback whales visit each year."

  • "Simply put, she's the whale who started it all."

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Seattle.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Seattle stories


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Seattle.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more