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Rare grey whale sighting near Squamish, BC draws a crowd


Migrating animals -- this one believed to be a mature male -- are searching far and wide for food

 By Kim Pemberton, Vancouver Sun May 4, 2010
 The rare sight of a grey whale feeding near the mouth of Squamish River is attracting dozens of visitors hoping to catch a glimpse for themselves.

One of the first people to identify the whale as a grey was Squamish resident John Buchanan, who was initially told by windsurfers off the spit in Squamish that they had seen a humpback. But when he went to look for himself Buchanan was surprised to see a grey whale.

"It's the first time in anyone's living memory that a grey has come into the estuary in 100 years," said Buchanan.

"I'm thrilled it showed up, but I'll be equally thrilled when it goes away. It could get beached in the shallow waters and there's a lot of motor craft that is going back and forth."

About 20,000 to 25,000 grey whales migrate this time of year from their breeding grounds in Baha, Mexico to the north Pacific, but they are usually spotted around Boundary Bay when passing B.C.'s coastline, said Caitlin Birdsall, a research assistant for the Vancouver Aquarium's B.C. Cetacean Sighting Program.

She said the program has 48,000 whale sightings on its database, but not many are of grey whales in Howe Sound.

"We have received sightings in Porteau Cove but none reported to us as far up as Squamish. They're very hungry at this time of year because they haven't eaten for several months, so if it is finding food it may stick around for awhile," said Birdsall. She added that grey whales typically feed in shallow sandy areas looking for ghost shrimp, crab larvae or herring spawn.

"If there's ghost shrimp in there that whale has hit the motherlode," said Shane Aggergaard, who runs a whale-watching tour company called Island Adventures in Anacortes, Washington.

"Grey whales will branch out to find a new food supply and will end up in little bays. This time of year you'll see whales where you've never seen whales before."

Aggergaard said it's likely the whale in Howe Sound is a mature male because they are typically in the first wave of migrating grey whales. He said they are slow-moving and easy to spot, adding the plume they blow in the air can be as high as 30 feet.




Tag: gray whale, squamish, estuary

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