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I had to wait until I was 23 years old to see my first whale. The year was 1976 and we sighted a distant tail on a ferry crossing from St. Johns, New Brunswick to Nova Scotia. My kids didn’t wait so long because they lived in Alaska and the whale population had rebounded enormously in two decades. The current population estimate on humpback whales in the North Pacific comes in at 22,000, which might be pretty close to pre-whaling levels. That compares to a population of 1400 in the 1960’s and a 1993 estimate of 6,000. Nearly everyone who comes to fish with us in Sitka sees lots of humpbacks. We see them cruising, breeching, slapping their tails, slapping their pectoral fins, and exhibiting all kinds of feeding behaviors. Each of these whales has the capacity to eat roughly a ton of food a day. In the ocean waters of Sitka, humpbacks dine heavily on what we call needlefish which are actually Pacific sand lance. They also eat krill and herring. ┬áIf you do a little math – 22,000 whales eating up to a ton a day equals a lot of consumption and a major ecosystem change since the dark days of the 1960’s when the population was at a low.

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