First Sperm Whale Documented in Inland Washington Waters – Seen and Recorded by OBI

In mid-February 2018, a sperm whale was recorded and then visually spotted in Johnstone Strait, British Columbia. It was the first documented report of this species in the region since another hydrophone recording in 1984. It was seen several times and determined by researchers to be an adolescent male. They named him Yukusam for the Kwak’wala name for the island where he was first sighted. By late March, he was spotted again near Nanaimo, and those of us further south were hopeful he might turn up nearby. Our wish was granted on the evening of March 31st, 2018 when in the evening he was seen in Boundary Pass making the turn into Haro Strait. Several lucky whale watchers, including OBI’s Sara Hysong-Shimazu, got to see him before dark.

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Since he was still heading south, Monika tuned into the Orcasound hydrophones and sure enough, before long, his booming echolocation clicks could be heard on both the hydrophones in Haro Strait. One listener described them pretty accurately as sounding like someone slowly clicking the keys on an old typewriter.

We got more than 3 hours of recordings, and he was vocalizing nearly non-stop, pausing presumably only to surface to breath. Those who had seen him near Nanaimo and the San Juans were reporting 35+ minute down times, only a fraction of the time a sperm whale is capable of holding its breath. The amplitude of his echolcoation clicks were especially apparent as a freighter moved through. While the noise of cargo ship engines easily masks killer whale calls, the sperm whale clicks remained loud over the din of the background noise.

This is the first documented sperm whale in Washington’s inland waters that we know of, with all other reports in the state coming from the outer coast. We were thrilled to be able to document this rare occurrence over the hydrophones. In case you missed it, here’s a 5 minute sample of what we heard. It was hard to select a short piece to share, but this one demonstrates the various types of sounds we heard. For most of the three hours, however, it was like the loud clicks near the beginning.