bc-100503-grey-whale-john-buchanan

The grey whale was spotted in Howe Sound, north of Vancouver. ((Submitted by John Buchanan))

A grey whale spotted feeding in Howe Sound north of Vancouver in recent days is a sign that efforts to restore the area's natural ecosystem are working, according to the chief of the Squamish First Nation.

Conservationists first noticed the whale feeding at the mouth of the Squamish River last week and photographed it over the weekend.

Chief Bill Williams, who heads up the nine communities that make up the Squamish First Nation, which stretches from North Vancouver to the northern part of Howe Sound, says history has not been kind to the grey whale, which was once common on the coast of B.C.

The recent sighting is thought to be the first time in more than a 100 years a grey whale has been spotted in the area.

"Grey whales used to inhabit the Howe Sound area up until 1880," Williams said. "But then between 1880 and 1900, they were hunted mercilessly by the Hudson's Bay Company, and they were all killed off in that 20-year stretch. So, they basically never came back. But now, they're starting to come back.

It is thanks to a 20-year effort by local conservationists to rehabilitate the natural habitat of the area that the whales are beginning to return, said Williams.

The return of the grey whale to Howe Sound shows how successful environmental programs can be if time and resources are devoted to them, Williams said.  

Grey whales have become more common on the West Coast in recent years as the population recovers from years of whaling, which ended in the 1970s. In 2007, a grey whale was spotted swimming up the Fraser River in Vancouver.