Small recreational boats pose threat to endangered killer whales, says marine biologist


WATCH: With new rules to protect southern resident killer whales, commercial whale watching groups now have to stay at least 400 metres away from the endangered species. But are small recreational boats ready to deal with the new rules? Aaron Guillen reports.

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Keep your distance.

That’s what all boaters must do when new whale watching rules become effective June 1, 2019.

Boaters will now have to steer clear of southern resident killer whales by 400 metres.

But some whale watching operators say they’ll do more than that.

“We’ll be doing everything we can to avoid watching Southern Resident Killer Whales,” says Ben Duthie, general manager of Prince of Whales.

“It won’t be something we’re promoting actively.”

And they’re changing their fleet as well.

The Salish Sea Eclipse is the Prince of Wales newest vessel.

It’ll be quieter than previous models, just as fast as their smaller boats, and can carry up to 95 passengers at a time.

“I think bigger platforms are better for the industry, but there will always be a place for the smaller boats as well,” says Duthie.

But not all boaters may be on board with the new rules.

A CHEK viewer in Cowichan Bay captured a group of recreational boats rushing through waters trying to get a glimpse of orcas that were swimming nearby.

“It’s not just the commercial whale watchers, it’s the opportunistic whale watchers,” says Lauren McWhinnie, marine biologist at UVic.

“They aren’t as aware of the regulations. They don’t have as much experience on the water and how to behave around marine mammals.”

According to a B.C. Boating Association 2015 report, nearly 1.9 million British Columbians get out on the water every year.

“The more distance we can put in there the better,” says McWhinnie.

“It’s one of the first of many measures that we need to bring in very quickly if this [killer whale] population is going to survive.”

With the summer quickly approaching, the marine biologist says education is key to ensure that both sailors and the Southern residents can have a summer that goes swimmingly.

Aaron GuillenAaron Guillen

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