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

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

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

“Personally, I’ve worked and lived in this area almost all my life, over 30 years, and I’ve never known of a sperm whale sighting in this area or in any coastal waters of British Columbia,” Towers told CBC News.

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

“Like they say, seeing is believing. We knew it was there because we could hear it, but you get a whole other appreciation for it when you’re face to face with an animal of that size,” Towers said.

For the first time since 1984, a sperm whale sighting has been confirmed in Johnstone Strait. 0:12

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

Meanwhile, Paul Spong and Helena Symonds were onshore at the OrcaLab research station on nearby Hanson Island, giving directions as they listened in.

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

“Unlikely any other species of whale, the sperm whale blow is at a 45-degree angle,” Towers explained.

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

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

Towers believes this whale is a…

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