Summer is on its way and with the warm weather many British Columbians will take to the water. Boating is a spectacular way to see the coast and appreciate the diversity of marine wildlife in our province, but can be disturbing to many species if not done properly. This summer, make sure to follow the Be Whale Wise guidelines to ensure your boating experience keeps cetaceans safe and reduces potential disturbance.
In the excitement of spotting wild whales and dolphins it is easy to forget that the presence of humans and their vessels can impact these animals. While many of these species are still recovering from low numbers caused by commercial whaling, and are threatened by pollution and changes in coastal food webs, the presence of vessels, the noise they produce and the potential for collisions adds another level of risk.
“When we get too close, approach too quickly, or make too much noise, humans may disrupt the whales and interfere with foraging, resting and socializing”, says Iain Smith, coordinator of the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network. “Even worse, boats can directly injure whales, dolphins, and porpoises – in recent years, whales with scars from boat propellers are being seen more often.” This is the case with ‘Slash’ (BCY177), a female humpback whale often seen in Johnstone Strait in the summer. Not only does she have a large scar on her back, but her dorsal fin has also been severed. Luckily, Slash survived her collision, but this isn’t always the case. Vessel collisions can be fatal for cetaceans, as was the case with the two killer whales in 2006. The outcome of many collisions is often unknown as the animals are never re-sighted.
So what’s a boater to do? To enjoy wildlife safely, the Be Whale Wise guidelines have been developed to help minimize the risk of disturbing whales and dolphins. By becoming stewards of marine wildlife, boaters can make a difference! The most important guidelines are:
1. Slow down to less than 7 knots when whales are nearby.
2. Give the whales a wide berth – never approach closer than 100 m.
3. Do not block the whales’ path – always travel parallel to them. If whales approach your boat, cautiously move out of the way before they get too close.
4. Do not encourage dolphins and porpoises to bow-ride. Should they choose to do so, maintain your course and speed to avoid collision.
For the complete Be Whale Wise guidelines click here. Wildlife watching on the water can be a special experience, remember your actions can help keep whales, dolphins and porpoise safe and greatly reduce human impacts on these species.