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Patrolling the Salish Sea: How BC’s whale safety unit retains marine mammals secure by holding people away

Working for BC’s whale safety unit at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is just not your typical day job. The crew has been patrolling the Salish Sea by boat for 4 years now, making an attempt to maintain people and whales aside.

“We wish to present them as a lot safety as attainable,” mentioned Senior Compliance Officer Derek Chung.

Chung says the staff is especially nervous about endangered Southern resident killer whales.

“There are solely 73 left.”

WATCH | How the DFO’s whale safety unit protects marine mammals:

DFO whale safety unit patrols the Salish Sea

Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s whale safety unit cruises the waters round Vancouver to verify folks hold their distance from marine mammals.

DFO officers based mostly on Annacis Island in Vancouver and Victoria monitor whale habitat, and implement the Marine Mammal Laws, Species at Danger Act and the Fisheries Act.

Chung says the primary duties are ensuring boats do not get too shut — both inadvertently or on function — and that folks keep out of designated areas as “no-go zones” as a result of their reputation amongst marine mammals.

Not too long ago, a diver who intentionally bought up shut and private with a pod of killer whales was fined $12,000.

Chung says the primary a part of the job is training — explaining how boats can disturb whales’ acoustic environments, forestall them from speaking or scare them out of areas they’d usually feed and work together with one another.

“It is all boaters — everyone that is on the water,” Chung mentioned, when requested who may face ends. “Business business, business fishing, the whale watching business, the dive fleets, in addition to pleasure crafters.”

He says vessel strikes are one other huge concern and the DFO recommends anybody who encounters whales whereas out on the water to show off their engine and idle till they’ve handed by.

An officer with a life vest on gestures in a boat.
Derek Chung of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) says the whale safety unit focuses on training and does not often hand out ends except they see somebody knowingly breaking the principles. (Nicholas Allan/CBC)

Researcher recommend collective strategy

Andrew Trites, director of the Marine Mammal Analysis Unit on the College of British Columbia (UBC) says the principles are there for a cause, however they are not all the time simple to observe.

“The massive concern is vessels that get too near whales,” he mentioned in an interview. “It may well both injure whales by reducing them with the propellers… harm their listening to, forestall them from resting… [or] from feeding efficiently.”

Trites says there is no conclusive proof that boats are contributing to increased mortality or decrease start charges amongst marine mammals. However, “do we have to show one thing to know what we really feel is simply not proper?” he mentioned.

He explains the present guidelines require boaters to remain 400 meters again from endangered resident killer whales. However whale watching boats can strategy transient killer whales that are “far more quite a few” in addition to humpbacks, minkes and grey whales.

“It’s worthwhile to have that specialised information to distinguish them,” Trites mentioned. “And I feel you are going to be shocked to see how far 400 meters is.”

Trites provides there are a selection of things that make it difficult to implement distance legal guidelines, together with shifting winds and the problem of proving that somebody was knowingly breaking the principles.

“There’s lots of strain on the boat operators to get nearer,” he mentioned. “I feel you will need to have a [law enforcement] presence … however I feel that presence is a shared accountability.”

Whale watching companies annoyed

Scott Hamkin, senior captain with the Seabreeze Adventures whale watching firm, says he typically sees pleasure boaters who appear “completely unaware” of the legal guidelines.

“We’re all licensed, and our licenses are in jeopardy if we must always break these legal guidelines,” mentioned Hamkin in an interview. “There appears to be no penalties for pleasure boaters.”

Hamkin says whale watchers will attempt to interrupt boaters who get too shut, utilizing their boat horns or radios to allow them to know they’re placing the mammals at risk.

“They will strategy them from behind and in entrance,” he mentioned. “We’re so annoyed that we’re not capable of do something.”

A bald white man with a white mustache looks at the camera, with a body of water behind him.
Scott Hamkin, senior captain at Seabreeze Adventures, says it is irritating to run a whale watching enterprise that follows whale safety guidelines, whereas seeing pleasure boaters who’re ‘completely oblivious’ to whale security. (Nicholas Allan/CBC)

Erin Gless, govt director of the Pacific Whale Watching Affiliation, mentioned in an electronic mail that the DFO has a tough job nevertheless it typically feels a “disproportionate quantity of effort goes towards monitoring skilled whale watch vessels.”

In its 2021 report, Salish Sea boater training group Soundwatch discovered that 71 per cent of sailing infractions round whales concerned leisure vessels.

Gless says a 2017 examine discovered over 90 per cent of the Vancouver area’s underwater noise is generated by giant vessels like ferries, tankers, cargo ships and tugs.

A boat with the words 'Whale Protection Unit' on it sails in water.
For 4 years, Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s whale safety unit has been patrolling the Salish Sea to try to hold people and whales aside. (Nicholas Allan/CBC)

“We do see room for enchancment relating to DFO’s enforcement of whale laws in BC,” wrote Gless, “and imagine that skilled whale watchers may assist.”

Gless says whale watchers give the DFO proof of infractions once they spot them, however may additionally assist them prioritize which areas to observe on any given day, relying on the place whales are noticed and the place marine site visitors is highest.

Again on the DFO, Chung says the whale safety unit is targeted on training first, and does not hand out ends except they’ll see somebody is knowingly breaking the principles.

He admits the DFO solely has one or two boats on the water at a time however says it really works carefully with the Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada and BC parks officers.

“We’re not as onerous or as simple on one sector as one other,” he mentioned. “We wish to attempt to hold [the Salish Sea] as pristine as attainable for our future generations.”

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