A dead humpback whale spotted in the Strait of Juan de Fuca last Wednesday brings the total to four of the iconic creatures lost in the past two years.

A report of the carcass of a humpback floating in the Strait of Juan de Fuca on Sept. 30 was confirmed as Hawkeye (MMX0094). It had been spotted and photographed alive and well as recently as Sept. 22 off of Otter Point west of Sooke.

“It was very sad to see,” Val Shore, a professional naturalist with Victoria-based Eagle Wing Tour, said in a media release. “We circled slowly around the whale to get photos from all angles, looking for signs of injury or entanglement. We couldn’t see anything obvious.”

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Fortunately, Shore was able to get good photos of the underside of the whale’s flukes, which enabled the whale to be identified. Markings on the underside of Humpback whale’s tails such as barnacle scars, tooth rakes, scratches and unique colourization distinguish whales from one another. That provides researchers with the information that has enabled them to catalogue hundreds of whales in the Salish Sea. The identifying photos were shared immediately with marine mammal authorities with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as well as with humpback researchers in the region. Professional Whale Watch Association members routinely share unusual sighting information as part of a collaborative effort.

Not much is known about the young male Hawkeye since he was first catalogued in 2016. His death raises the possibility that Hawkeye may have been struck by a vessel, although that cannot be confirmed until the carcass is examined and a necropsy has been completed. There is that concern, however, because the whale was found in busy shipping lanes, and strikes by vessels are on the rise as shipping traffic, predominantly out of the ports of Vancouver, Seattle and Tacoma, increases in the region.

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A Washington State Ferry (WSF) struck and presumably killed a humpback whale while leaving Elliott Bay in Seattle in 2019, and a second humpback was killed by a WSF vessel on July 6 of this year. Two more dead humpback were found this summer as well.

Hawkeye’s carcass was last spotted floating in Clallum Bay along the interior coast of Washington State. Anyone who sees the carcass in Canadian waters is asked to contact the Fisheries and Oceans Canada at 1-604-240-3841. Call the Stranding Network Hotline at 1-866-767-6114 to report deceased whales in U.S. waters.

Significant efforts are underway throughout the maritime community on both sides of the border to reduce the number of strikes. Learn more at pacificwhalewatchassociation.com.

rick.stiebel@goldstreamgazete.com