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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

Humpback whales enjoying the Seattle summer in big numbers

Humpback whale off of Victoria, British Columbia.
Flickr Photo/Ivan Wong Rodenas (CC BY ND 2.0)/
Humpback whale off of Victoria, British Columbia.

This summer is proving to be a bonanza for whale-watchers.

According to The Pacific Whale Watch Association, tourists and researchers are seeing groups of humpback whales in the Salish Sea and Puget Sound nearly every day.

Humpbacks were nearly wiped out early in the last century because of whaling. But when hunting was banned in the 1960s they started to come back.

Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia estimates as many as 500 humpbacks now spend the season off Washington and British Columbia.

Researcher Gretchen Steiger said abundant food is part of the reason. "Unlike other large baline whales which hunt exclusively on krill, humpback whales feed both on krill and small fish," she said.

But there's a downside to all these whales. Steiger is concerned tourists may be trying to get too close.

"It's a really dangerous thing to do. People in their paddleboards and kayaks want to go right to the whale and the whale could be feeding and injure the person unintentionally," she said.

Federal law says you have to stay at least 100 yards from a humpback.