The Great Bear. The largest temperate coastal rainforest in the world. The study area comprises a broad (1,220 km2) inshore-offshore transect of the inland waterways in northern British Columbia, Canada, where the northern Great Bear Fjordland meets Pacific waters within the marine territory of the Gitga’at First Nation. While the entirety of British Columbia’s 27,000 km shoreline is complex, this area comprises one of the coast’s few deep-cut fjordlands that open directly to the Pacific. As such, the study area is semi-enclosed by natural boundaries, rendering it an ideal system for focused study.
Both fin and humpack whales were once abundant here until commercial whaling (1908-1967) extirpated their inland populations. In the new millenium, humpback whales began returning to the Great Bear’s productive waters en force. In turn, researchers began monitoring cetacean populations in the area using both visual and acoustic measures.
Then, in 2006, fin whales were sighted within the inland corridors for the first time in more than half a century. In the years since, more and more fin whales are being seen foraging here. It is an exciting time for whale research on the BC coast, and a precious chance to study the role of fjord habitats in the natural history of the largest whales.
Add to this academic excitement the urgency instilled by the maritime development facing the north coast: tankers carrying crude bitumen and liquified natural gas (LNG) through this inland whale foraging ground to Asian markets.