A $32-million commercial fishery has inexplicably and completely collapsed this year on the B.C. coast.
The sardine seine fleet has gone home after failing to catch a single fish. And the commercial disappearance of the small schooling fish is having repercussions all the way up the food chain to threatened humpback whales.
Jim Darling, a Tofino-based whale biologist with the Pacific Wildlife Foundation, said in an interview Monday that humpbacks typically number in the hundreds near the west coast of Vancouver Island in summer. They were observed only sporadically this year, including by the commercial whale-watching industry.
“Humpbacks are telling us that something has changed,” he said. “Ocean systems are so complex, it’s really hard to know what it means. For one year, I don’t think there’s any reason to be alarmed, but there is certainly reason to be curious.”
Humpbacks instead were observed farther offshore, possibly feeding on alternative food sources such as herring, sandlance, anchovies, or krill, but not in the numbers observed near shore in recent years.