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'It took away the excitement': Whale watchers hope boater who got close to orcas is penalized

Reference: CTV News

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is investigating after videos showing a boat getting close to a pod of orcas off Campbell River were posted online this week.

Dominik Ruegsegger was one of several people watching the whales from shore and recording the scene.

"They were following and harassing the orcas," Ruegsegger told CTV News.

"As the pod came up, they just headed straight towards the orcas."

Ruegsegger, who works for a water taxi that does wildlife tours, said the boat operator disturbed the whales for close to two hours.

"Under laws and regulations right now, you have to stay at least 200 metres away from (orcas), and they were easily within 50 metres."

Jackie Hildering, communications director for the Marine Education Research Society, says the videos are an example of what not to do when encountering whales. She says boaters need to know and follow the rules.

"The marine mammal regulations changed really significantly – and these are national regulations – in 2018," Hildering said. "Since then, there’s been a lot of efforts for education, because now there are specific distances, no swimming with, don’t touch, don’t feed."

If the DFO finds the boater violated these rules, the fines could be significant, Hildering said, noting a recent case that resulted in a $12,000 penalty.

She said she hopes this latest incident turns into a teachable moment.

"The awareness that this brings to what the regulations are – or even that there are regulations – and why those exist and why there is this outrage …There is this understanding that this constitutes disturbance," Hildering said.

Ruegsegger said the boater's actions ruined the experience for those watching the whales from shore. He said he hopes the operator will be held accountable.

"It took away the excitement of seeing the orcas because they harassed and (the whales) went for long dives because they were in distress because of that boat," he said... Read More