Last week, the spectacular sight of orcas coming up Campbell River’s Discovery Passage became quickly concerning as local onlookers caught a boater harassing the transient whales.
In this video, captured from shore by Dominik Ruegsegger, a boat is seen following the orcas, even getting within 50 metres of them, despite Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) regulations to stay back 200 metres. “He’s right on top of them now” says a voice in the video. “I can’t believe it,” says another.
“I was quite shocked that someone would engage in these behaviours in such a publicly viewable setting,” says Ricky Belanger, the Discovery Passage Aquarium manager, in the video shared by Glacier Media.
The video shows three people in a small white boat “leap-frogging” in front of the orcas, which involves motoring up front of the whales and cutting their engines to get a close view.
Witnesses saw them doing this over 45 minutes and over five kilometres as the pod tried to evade the aggressive boat. The whales were trying to escape the boaters by taking long dives and disappearing for over ten minutes, which is a sign of distress, Ruegsegger told CHEK News.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) received several complaints and is now investigating the incident. DFO reminds boaters to stay at least 200 metres away from whales, and if not, offenders should be prepared for steep fines.
Jackie Hildering of the Marine Research and Education Society said this behaviour is unacceptable and the community has rightly expressed anger. “The outrage here is everything from the proximity, the duration of how long it happened, and I think just how overt it was,” she told Glacier Media.
Boaters need to also consider how sound affects the whales. “We may not hear the full effect of our engine over the surface. We are layering that on top of all the other sound and stresses for the whales, and that sound is magnified over five times in the water,” she said.
Ultimately, Hildering hopes this incident can be a teachable moment for boaters and orca enthusiasts going forward.