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Group looks to better protect whales from human-caused hazards

About 50 actions to prevent whales from being harmed took place in Greater Victoria waters last year
Recreational boaters in Greater Victoria are encouraged to be on the lookout for whale warning flags that indicate whales are within one kilometre, as well as educate themselves on boating best practices when whales are in the vicinity. (Photo courtesy of Erin Gless)

A report released this month from the Pacific Whale Watching Association (PWWA) looks at recent actions taken to protect whales on the West Coast.

Sentinel actions are protective interventions performed during a tour, such as stopping a nearby vessel from speeding near whales, alerting a ferry of a whale nearby and retrieving derelict fishing gear.

In 2021 PWWA documented nearly 900 sentinel actions, and of those actions about 50 occurred in and around Greater Victoria.

“Most of the incidents near Victoria involved speeding vessels or the collection of marine debris, like balloons or derelict fishing gear,” said Erin Gless, executive director at PWWA. “As whale season ramps up, boaters should look for the whale warning flags that indicate whales are within one kilometre.”

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Law enforcement was present during less than three per cent of all documented whale encounters, indicating that whale watchers take on a protective role and fill a gap where there is a need, she added.

“Law enforcement can’t be everywhere at once, so professional whale watchers are often the whales’ only line of defence,” said Gless.

Proactively notifying vessels of whales nearby and intervening when boats operate unsafely is part of how the association aims to bring more awareness to conscious boating.

“Fortunately, we were successful in positively changing the behaviour of vessels contacted in at least 70 per cent of sentinel actions,” said Gless.

Vessels travelling at high speeds generate underwater sound and are also at greater risk of striking a whale, the report stated.

Many recreational boaters are unaware of regulations and how they have an impact on whales – which highlights a need for education within boating communities.

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