Ocular still shows the scars but has been healing this past year. Photo courtesy of Peter Hamilton/Lifeforce

Healed and healthy, Ocular the humpback returns to Vancouver Island waters

A year after injuries drew widespread attention, whale spotted near Comox again

Ocular the injured whale has returned to Vancouver Island waters.

A year ago, Peter Hamilton of Lifeforce Ocean Friends noticed the juvenile humpback off of Cape Lazo near Comox.

At the time, he took photos of the whale. Ocular had a severe injury along the spine, though Hamilton was not sure of the cause of the injury, figuring it could be from entanglement with fishing lines or from a boat propeller.

This year, on June 30, Hamilton was again out taking photos in the same area and saw the familiar creature.

“I was out there ID’ing other humpbacks, then I saw this smaller one, and I thought, ‘I wonder is that Ocular?’ … then I hear this blow, and Ocular is circling the boat,” he said.

The whale circled the boat once, then left.

“Maybe Ocular was checking out the boat that he or she saw last year,” he said.

Hamilton says the whale was born, first seen and named in 2016. As no one had reported any entanglements, he thought a boat propeller was the cause of the injury.

RELATED STORY: Injured humpback whale spotted near Comox

At the time, he worked with Jackie Hildering of the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) to identify the nature of Ocular’s injury.

“It appears to be due to fishing gear entanglement,” he said. “That was a deep cut.”

The injuries ran down the back and near the fluke. Ocular seems to be on the mend, though, over this past year.

“It definitely healed, but certainly it’s still visible,” he said.

Hamilton figures the humpback returns south to spend winter in waters off Hawaii or Mexico. He has also talked to Hildering about where the creature might go, but they cannot be sure as they do not work with observers in those locations.

“Sometimes it’s hard to coordinate everything. You don’t have people on the other end,” he said.

In any case, the creature seems keen on heading back to this area.

“I thought it was an interesting coincidence with, like, timing. Ocular seems to like this area and arrived back about the same time he or she was here last year … in pretty well the exact location,” he said.

Hamilton underscores the need for some public education here when it comes to keeping a safe distance from whales. He said there has been confusion since the federal government has brought in new regulations, but he adds it is important to be up to date on these. Ideally, if one is swimming toward you, try to move away, to avoid their becoming habituated to humans, but if it surfaces nearby, be patient and let the whale move through the area. Humpbacks may be curious, but interactions can prove dangerous both to whales and humans.

“Sometimes curious whales will approach, but it is illegal to instigate it,” Hamilton added.

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