British Columbia

Humpback whale found dead near Klemtu, B.C., says aquaculture company

A dead humpback whale has been found stuck in equipment at an empty fish farm on B.C.'s Central Coast.

'It's very upsetting for all of us,' says fish farm's communications manager

A juvenile humpback, which was caught in an anchor line in September at one of Marine Harvest's empty aquaculture sites at Klemtu, B.C., was safely rescued. (Philip Charles)

A dead humpback whale has been found stuck in equipment at an empty fish farm on B.C.'s Central Coast.

Marine Harvest Canada said in a news release that the whale was found earlier this week entangled in an anchor support line at a site in Sheep Passage, north of Bella Bella.

The company says staff and contractors were in the process of dismantling the site's anchoring system after another whale got entangled in the equipment in September.

"It's very upsetting for all of us," said Ian Roberts, communication manager for Marine Harvest Canada. "This was very unfortunate and disappointing and sad for all of us involved."

He said the previous whale was safely released.

Marine Harvest operates six farms in the area and another 30 down the coast. Roberts said the company intends to remove all the support lines at fish farms in that area.

After that, it will inspect the lines at its other operations to prevent this from happening again, he added.

The federal Fisheries Department has been notified about the dead humpback and will be investigating the incident.

Prior to the September incident, Roberts said nothing like this had ever occurred in the company's 30 years of operation.

Increasing problem

Jackie Hildering, a humpback researcher with the Marine Education and Research Society, said the area is a popular feeding spot for humpbacks heading south to evade mammal-eating orcas. 

"They're feeding like crazy. That's why they're in our rich waters. They are feeding machines," she said. 

Hildering said humpbacks, unlike toothed whales, do not have bio-sonar and have trouble avoiding fishing gear when they're diving for food. 

"Certainly when there's any gear in the water — like with a fish farm, like when people try to make a living from fishing — there is a risk to the whales," she said.

"With having herring on a site like this and then still having residual fish farm gear, then yeah, that's problematic."

One out of every two humpbacks gets tangled in fishing equipment and survives, according to Hildering, who added that researchers don't know how many are getting caught up and dying as a result.

She said entanglement is an increasing problem on the B.C. coast because humpbacks are returning from the brink of extinction, so there are more of them around.

"It's terribly important that we're learning and that we take opportunities like this to learn about why they're getting entangled," she said. 

"I would suggest too, that if there are certain locations or certain types of gear that pose a risk, then there needs to be management decisions made around that."

With files from The Canadian Press