The Tla-o-qui-aht word for whale is Ihtuup. “Ih” means “really big” and “tuup” means “animal” or “creature”. Very soon we will be welcoming back a “REALLY BIG CREATURE”, our migrating "ma?ak", Gray Whales! After wintering in the warm water lagoons of Baja California, Mexico, 18-24,000 whales will pass our BC shores towards the summer feeding grounds of the Bering, Chuckchi and Beaufort Seas. This 15-20,000 km round-trip migration is one of the longest known mammalian migrations.
Here in Tofino, we are fortunate to enjoy them within 5-kms of shore and in shallow waters. Not all whales complete the migration north and instead spend their summer feeding in our local waters. These are what we fondly refer to as our “summer residents”. Gray Whales mostly feed in shallow areas using their baleen to strain out small invertebrates from the soft muddy bottom. Gray Whales can also be seen during summer months feeding on herring eggs and larvae found in eel grass beds.
It's not an easy journey for the migrating Gray Whales. Oil spills on migratory routes pose a major threat, along with: offshore toxic industrial spills, mining and oil exploration, industrial noise, ship strikes, fishing gear entanglements, and habitat loss. While a spill may not be present during their migration, if Gray Whales eat oiled prey and sediments, they are consuming toxins which are harmful to their baleen filters and internal organs. All the more reason to protect our beautiful oceans.
We invite you to take part in one of our exciting and interpretive whale watching programs this spring. Join us in celebrating this magnificent creatures journey and the real miracle it is for them to pass development, ships, and marauding pods of killer whales over thousands and thousands of miles.
Words by Ocean Simone
Lead Image by Guide: Ron L'Amoureaux