Viral videos of whale close-ups not good for whales or tourist expectations, say operators

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While close-up encounters between people and whales are rare, they do happen, so now a responsible marine mammal viewing initiative is being launched “hoping to quell negative impacts to the marine mammals in the coastal waters around Vancouver Island,” according to a tourism association.

“We just don’t want to put extra pressure on the whales. We have regulations from DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) in B.C. waters that are adhered to by all of the whale watching operators, so this is really a campaign to help educate the visitors that are coming here,” Brian Cant, VP of business impact and engagement at 4VI.

Watch the report below:

It’s the law for boaters to keep a 100-metre distance from whales (200 m if they are resting or with a calf) and 400 m from all orcas south of Campbell River. This applies to everyone, including kayaks, paddleboards, swimmers, etc.

However, whales are often known to approach boats and can even get very close, resulting in viral videos that appear on social media.

“With the prevalence of really good cell phone cameras and social media, the sharing, the ability to share is just so much easier and it’s definitely led to an increase in those things being shared,” said Stephen Gabrysh, president of The North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association (NIMMSA).

Gabrysh also owns Campbell River Whale Watching and Adventure Tours.

He’s part of a new campaign this summer asking people to think twice before posting to social media.

“Yeah, I mean, the close-ups on social media can be problematic because it portrays things that are extremely rare and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, which can also set expectations really high for guides and operators,” he added.

Not to mention putting the whales in danger by trying to get close just because someone saw a similar video online.

“I also guide out on the water and I’ve definitely had situations where we’re at the legal distances and people will say to me, you know, hey, we’d like to get closer, we saw this video, or we saw something online about orcas coming to a boat or humpbacks coming to a boat, is that going to happen?” Gabrysh said.

“And that puts a guide in a really tough spot, but it would be great if guests would show up without those expectations in the first place.”

A short video has even been produced to inform visitors what their expectations should be and operators are being encouraged to check that their own advertising doesn’t lead to false or misleading expectations by visitors.

Dean Stoltz

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