Whale watching operators hope new regulations end harassment of whales

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has spelled out the details of new regulations stating boats cannot approach within 100 metres of endangered marine mammals.

Whale watching tour operators say they followed DFO's previous guidelines, and formal regulations are welcome

David Welch, boat captain at Fundy Tide Runners Whale Watching and Nature Tourism, said most tour operators have abided for years by a 100-metre approach guideline recommended by DFO. The buffer zone is also enshrined in several companies' code of ethics. (Submitted Fundy Tide Runners Whale Watching)

Whale watching operators in New Brunswick are welcoming new regulations laid out by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, saying they've been abiding by similar guidelines recommended by the department for years.

The new enforceable regulations announced Wednesday will require boaters to maintain a 100-metre buffer zone in Atlantic Canada. Infractions could result in penalties of up to $100,000. 

David Welch, boat captain with Fundy Tide Runners Whale Watching and Nature Tourism in St. Andrews, said any reputable company already stops a respectable distance away.

"It would be foolhardy for us to scare away our bread and butter, so to speak, with harassment," he said. 

"I hate to paint the public with a broad brush, but generally the pleasure boaters are less aware of the regulations than the tour boat operators are."

Lisa Eldridge, owner-operator of Quoddy Link Marine, agreed. 

"It's something we are very conscious of." 

"We're actually quite happy that this is happening because there have been issues with private boaters and other whale watching companies as well."

Both companies signed a code of ethics, offered to all Bay Of Fundy marine tour operators, and display it in their offices and online to ensure clients know what to expect from a whale watching tour.

Lisa Elderidge of Quoddy Link Marine said over the summer she sees a variety of whales. Pictured is a great white shark, also seen during a tour. (Nick Hawkins)

Welch added that stopping the boat 100 m away doesn't mean guests on board won't get a close encounter with a whale. If the whale approaches a boat, he said, that's up to the whale.

"There are tricks to the trade as far as positioning yourself."

DFO said any boater is expected to stay away from a whale, dolphin or porpoise while remaining as safe as possible. 

Eldridge said depending on the time of year, whale watchers might see minke, fin, humpback, and — if they're extremely lucky — right whales.

She added that porpoises, seals and even great white sharks also turn up.

DFO said more fisheries officers will be on the water and in the air to enforce the new regulations.

Elderidge said he considers the new rules and increased enforcement as a positive move. 

"We hope they are going to go through with actually being out there, not just regulate it and leave it."

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