A West Coast whale watching association is reporting unprecedented sightings of large groups of humpback whales near Victoria and Port Angeles, Wash.

Whale watching groups are calling the phenomenon the "humpback comeback" in the Salish Sea. 

"None of us in all of our years working with whales and living in this part of the world have ever seen this kind of number of humpback whales in any time that we've been here," said Michael Harris with the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

Harris says humpbacks were virtually gone by 1966, the year commercial whaling stopped in local waters.

"They were listed under the Endangered Species Act for many years, and they were down to about 1,600," he said.

"Now they have bounced back to about 21,000 in this north Pacific population that we see. That's a lot of whales."

humpback whale

A humpback whale lunge feeding off Port Angeles, Wash. (Craig Weakley/Port Angeles Whale Watch Company)

The Pacific Whale Watch Association represents 38 companies, and he says none of them have ever seen such a high number of humpbacks at one time.

Harris says the Pacific Coast saw a similar bounceback with grey whales — to the point that some experts thought they may have gotten to the point where there are too many of them given the amount of food available. 

But for now, he calls the humpback comeback a success.

"They're ... exploding out of the air and acting like they're comfortable and they belong here," Harris said.

He says it's difficult to say if the numbers will continue to increase.