The Pacific Whale Watching Association is urging people not to release balloons as they pose a serious risk to land-based and marine wildlife. (Photo by Pacific Whale Watching Association)

The Pacific Whale Watching Association is urging people not to release balloons as they pose a serious risk to land-based and marine wildlife. (Photo by Pacific Whale Watching Association)

Helium balloons used in Greater Victoria can harm marine life: whale watching group

Balloons often wind up in ocean, potentially ingested by whales, other sea mammals

With more people taking graduation, birthday and other celebrations outside, the Pacific Whale Watching Association is asking people not to release balloons into the sky or discard them on the ground.

Balloons can pose serious risks for both land-based and marine animals. Deflated balloons can be mistaken for food and trailing strings can get stuck around necks or limbs. Whales, seals, porpoises, sea lions and birds are just a few of the creatures put at risk, the association says.

This year, the association’s B.C. and Washington State naturalists have retrieved hundreds of balloons, including a single string of 20 graduation party balloons. In the past week alone, they found nearly 100 in the Salish Sea, more than ever before.

Balloons can pose a serious risk to marine life if they find their way into the ocean. (Credit: Valerie Shore/Eagle Wing Tours/PWWA)

During two recent whale-watching tours, naturalists onboard a Victoria-based Eagle Wing Tours boat spotted and picked up ten large mylar balloons, which they say easily could have been ingested by humpback whales or other wildlife.

READ ALSO: ‘Return of the Giants:’ B.C. getting 2nd chance to coexist with humpback whales

“While we understand the intentions are celebratory, we urge everyone to fully understand that releasing balloons – any type, anywhere, anytime – is environmentally destructive,” said naturalist Valerie Shore with Eagle Wing Tours. “For example, a humpback whale who is lunge-feeding can accidentally scoop a floating balloon into its mouth – and with throats about the size of a grapefruit, balloons can create huge problems for the whale or other wildlife nearby.”

Balloons can also be a fire risk if they get caught in power lines, transformers and other equipment that could spark, the association noted, adding that untethered balloons cause dozens of outages every year.

Instead of celebrating with balloons, the association suggests planting trees or flowers in someone’s honour, flying kites, flags or streamers, or handing out ribbon wands for people to use.

READ ALSO: Saanich Peninsula farmers face significant crop losses due to excessive heat


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