Industry making changes after whale watching boat strikes humpback

Industry making changes after whale watching boat strikes humpback

WATCH: With a growing number of humpback whales in Pacific Northwest waters, whale watching operators say the risk of collisions is increasing. April Lawrence reports.

It’s a major tourist attraction, with customers typically walking away thrilled, but a whale-watching trip on Monday didn’t go as planned.

According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), there were 12 people on board the Prince of Whales when a whale-watching zodiac vessel struck a whale near Race Rocks.

“In this case the animal wasn’t spotted, came out of nowhere, the captain didn’t see it, the passengers didn’t see it, so the bow did rise up in the air and came down on starboard size, and that was where the injury occurred to the two passengers,” said Ben Duthie, operations manager for Prince of Whales Whale Watching.

The DFO says two people received minor injuries and they don’t believe the whale was injured.

The whale was a humpback ? a species that has made a remarkable recovery in the Pacific Northwest in the past decade.

“There seems to be a humpback every square mile now, and they are feeding,” said Dan Kukat, past president of the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

Kukat says unlike killer whales, humpbacks are unpredictable while feeding and are largely unaware of their surroundings.

“All of a sudden the food takes them elsewhere and they follow their food, so if their food takes them in a different direction, they could surface a quarter mile away,” he said.

While there is no official investigation at this point, the Transportation Safety Board and DFO are looking into the incident, which at this point, is being considered a rare accident.

“Tens of thousands of trips by the industry, hundreds, well millions of passengers now, and this is the first incident of its kind where there was a whale strike at speed,” Kukat said.

But the industry realizes with the “humpback come back” in our waters, the risk of collisions in the region is increasing.

Since Monday’s incident, captains from local tour operators have already made changes to how they communicate.

“We’re broadcasting more frequently the location of individual whales that each captain sees, so the whole fleet is aware of each whale and where it might be,” Kukat said.

And there are plans for even more changes in the industry in the months ahead, as captains try to navigate the relatively new challenge these majestic, and massive, mammals pose.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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