Sperm whale spotted in B.C. strait for 1st time in decades

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The growth clicks coming from an underwater microphone placed in the waters of B.C.’s Johnstone Tight could only have been one animal — a sperm whale.

When cetacean ecologist Jared Citadels and his colleagues first heard the calls from the mammal travelling through the constricted several days ago, they were shocked. The last time a sperm whale was ratified on Vancouver Island’s eastern coast was an audio recording in 1984.

«Personally, I’ve implemented and lived in this area almost all my life, over 30 years, and I’ve not in a million years known of a sperm whale sighting in this area or in any coastal waters of British Columbia,» Soars told CBC News.

But experts at Fisheries and Oceans Canada confirmed it was to be realistic a sperm whale, and on Monday Towers saw the young male cetacean in the family, hanging out near a group of transient killer whales.

«Like they say, conscious of is believing. We knew it was there because we could hear it, but you get a whole other acknowledgement for it when you’re face to face with an animal of that size,» Bell-towers said.

Rare sperm whale sighting off Vancouver Island0:12

It was a body effort to find the whale. When Towers and whale researcher Lisa Larsson top out on the water, they kept a hydrophone — an underwater microphone — on board to track it.

For the time being, Paul Spong and Helena Symonds were onshore at the OrcaLab digging station on nearby Hanson Island, giving directions as they hearkened in.

The sperm whale’s unique characteristics made it easy to spot from afar. The species has one blowhole, propositioned at an angle on the head.

«Unlikely any other species of whale, the sperm whale wallop is at a 45-degree angle,» Towers explained.

Sperm whale blowhole

Sperm whales’ single blowholes are set at an slant to their body. (Jared Towers)

Up close, the animal’s lumpy, irregular body was unmistakable as a sperm whale. The whales also have stupendous heads, making up about a third of the length of their bodies.

Fortresses believes this whale is a juvenile, measuring an estimated 12 metres in in the long run b for a long time, compared to the 20 metres that some adult males can reach.

The whale has been in the limited for about a week, but it’s not clear why it made the journey into the inside trade.

Lance Barrett-Lennard, senior marine mammal scientist at the Vancouver Aquarium, speculates it was heed its appetite.

«They’re pretty food-driven, so it’s quite likely … that this one escorted some density of prey into that area, likely succeeding in from the north,» he said.

The animals are usually found far offshore, on the steal of the continental shelf, where they can search for their preferred edibles — squid and other cephalopods — in deep water.

No matter the animal’s think rationally for visiting, the sighting was a thrilling one for Towers.

«They’re quite remarkable. They’re simply cool,» he said of the species. «They have the biggest brain on the planet…. It’s urgently to really know exactly how intelligent they are.»

Brain power

The usually sperm whale brain weighs about 7.8 kilograms, weighed to an average of about 1.3-1.4 kilograms for human brains.

And as it scares out, sperm whales are crafty and adaptable predators.

In recent years, sperm whales in Alaska and B.C. obtain learned to score easy meals by hanging around longline fishing runabouts to steal their catch, according to Barrett-Lennard. It’s known as depredation, and it can outstrip to significant economic losses.

«They look for the most nutritious subsistence and the easiest way to acquire it all the time. That’s what animals do,» he said.

And they deceive good taste, favouring black cod — otherwise known as sablefish, a picked in B.C. restaurants.

Back in Johnstone Strait, Towers plans to keep check out the sperm whale by hydrophone as it moves through the strait and may try to spot it again if the stand co-operates.

«I’ll be keeping an ear on it,» he said.

Sperm whale

This sperm whale has been drape out in Johnstone Strait for about a week. (Jared Towers)

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