In 2011 another “regular” whale –formally known to us as Jonny Rotten, appeared with an apparent calf. This event led to the NEPMWP having to invoke a name change protocol and today we call this whale Chrissy Hynde –she is most often found in the vicinity of Hein Bank. Chrissy has also been seen regularly since 2005 and is perhaps one of the most recognisable whales that we have observed over the last 9 years.
The NEPMWP has also had interesting encounters with these younger, inquisitive whales; while conducting a focal follow on one whale, Ellie –named for the founder of the minke whale project Eleanor Dorsey, it became quite clear that we were the ones being followed!
Research conducted by the NEPMWP in the 1980s found whales segregating into separate areas and returning to those specific areas year after year; we see some of this small-scale site fidelity today, particularly on the banks in the Juan de Fuca Strait. Such small-scale spatial segregation may be related to specialized foraging strategies among individuals. For this reason when you are watching minke whales it is important to note if there are feeding birds around –it is not uncommon to see a minke pop up or lunge through an active flock of feeding birds on Salmon or Hein Bank.
Despite not being targeted by hunters minke whales in the NE Pacific face other threats, including entanglement, ship strike, noise pollution, habitat disturbance and human interactions. Some of these threats may be impacting the population but we just don’t know and this is a worry. In the US minke whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) which instructs vessels to “avoid intentionally approaching closer than 100 yards to a marine mammal”
Reports of minke whales in the Salish Sea are always exciting, you are observing a whale that is rare in the NE Pacific. And reports of young whales are even more exciting as we hope that the population is growing. But it is very unlikely that Joan’s calf is newborn (as suggested in the recent news report) and is close to being weaned as evidenced by the time of year, size of the whale and the presence of months old cookie cutter shark scars. So if you happen to experience a minke mugging by a young whale this summer it might well be Joan’s young-of-the-year.
The NEPAMWP conducts research under NMFS permits; all photos collected by citizen contributors are taken under compliance with the MMPA. We hope to be able to post photos of the recent encounter with Joan soon after we acquire permission from the photographers.