Self-confessed “water guy” and farm tech Mike Stoskopf is looking back on a summer like no other. An unexpected legacy in the form of a whale bearing a name he chose has not only strengthened his interest in whales but has also added to the body of knowledge surrounding these majestic animals who call the waters of BC home for part of the year.
Mike first sighted the humpback whale that would later be known as Stovetop in the spring while on shift at Mahatta East in Quatsino Sound. It regularly travelled with a juvenile and another whale. Mike consulted an on-line whale database and after careful study, realized that the chances were high that the largest of the three humpbacks had never before been sighted locally.
I took several pictures of the whale which eventually came to the attention of Jackie Hildering at the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS), said Mike. After extensive consulting with her colleagues, Jackie confirmed to Mike that he was in fact the first person to see this particular whale.
Anyone who is the first to sight a whale is given the privilege of naming it. “I was called Stovetop Stuffing as a kid because of my last name, and I decided Stovetop was the perfect name,” explained Mike.
“This summer was a moving experience. I made eye contact with the whales and simply knew there was not only intelligence but gentleness as well. Not once did I ever feel like I was in danger,” adding that it’s been fantastic to watch the juvenile whale grow and become more independent as the months went by. “I developed a bond with Stovetop and the others throughout the summer,” Mike added.
Another connection Marine Harvest staff have to whales is through the BC Cetacean Sightings Network, a joint effort between the Vancouver Aquarium Fisheries and Oceans Canada that was established in 1999. This research and conservation program’s goal is to teach the public about not only BC whales but dolphins, porpoises, and sea turtles, and issues threatening their survival.
An essential part of the network is the observers across the province, from not only aquaculture employees, lighthouse keepers, recreational boaters to whale watching operators who report their sightings of whales and other cetaceans. Beginning in June 2011, each Marine Harvest farm site as well as all company vessels are equipped with log books where whale sightings are recorded. The date, time, and location of each whale is written down, as well any other pertinent details.
The Marine Harvest maintained log books will be submitted to the BC Cetacean Sightings Network on an annual basis. This data, along with what is collected by others, provides valuable information about which whales are found where as well as assisting in future management plans for at-risk species.
For more information, check out www.wildwhales.org.