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People are responsible for safety around whales: scientist

<p>JOHN HARDY PHOTO</p>
<p>It seems orca sightings are becoming more common on the southwest coast. John Hardy was out cod jigging with Ben Savory in his boat 4-SAIL about two miles south of Channel Head on July 31, when they encountered the whales. Some were close enough the two were able to reach over the side of the boat to touch the whales as they swam by.</p>
<p>JOHN HARDY PHOTO</p> <p>It seems orca sightings are becoming more common on the southwest coast. John Hardy was out cod jigging with Ben Savory in his boat 4-SAIL about two miles south of Channel Head on July 31, when they encountered the whales. Some were close enough the two were able to reach over the side of the boat to touch the whales as they swam by.</p>

Prime whale watching is a special privilege of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, according to Garry Stenson, but it also means boaters must be extra cautious.

The research scientist with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) says the quantity of whales off the province’s coastline is something people in other parts of the world never get to see. A couple of recent boating accidents involving whales have brought the dangers associated with it to the forefront.

The head of the marine mammal section has also heard reports of the abundance of whales off the coasts of the province this year.

See also: Ocean's Playground can be dangerous: Ledwell

Stenson said the numbers naturally vary with location and time of the year, but generally whales go where their food source is. If there are more whales, there is typically more baitfish — like caplin or herring — in the waters.

With feeding their sole intention, whales may not notice boaters or other unnatural things in the waters, he said.

“They are not going to be looking out for something like a small boat,” he said. “It is not a natural occurrence to a wild animal. They are going to be intent on what they are doing and, unfortunately, we tend to kind of get in the way.”

Combined with a possible increase in whales, there are more boaters and recreational users on the water than ever before. While Stenson says boat and whale accidents are rare, these factors increase the chances of these occurrences.

Other than being more aware of their surroundings, Stenson said there is not a whole lot people can do to avoid accidents with whales. People tend to want to get closer, which he says they shouldn’t. It is illegal to disturb whales, he pointed out.

The scientist believes a whale doesn’t even notice some boaters or users in the water. The mammals have to come up for air at some point, and accidents could result. Sometimes it can be because people are careless, but other times people may not know these large animals are beneath the surface.

The whales likely won’t adapt to the presence of people, so it is incumbent on the people to be responsible, he said.

“We are really, really lucky here in Newfoundland to be able to see large whales,” he said. “Like anything else, you have to be careful.”

 

cory.hurley@tc.tc

Twitter: TC_CoryHurley

The research scientist with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) says the quantity of whales off the province’s coastline is something people in other parts of the world never get to see. A couple of recent boating accidents involving whales have brought the dangers associated with it to the forefront.

The head of the marine mammal section has also heard reports of the abundance of whales off the coasts of the province this year.

See also: Ocean's Playground can be dangerous: Ledwell

Stenson said the numbers naturally vary with location and time of the year, but generally whales go where their food source is. If there are more whales, there is typically more baitfish — like caplin or herring — in the waters.

With feeding their sole intention, whales may not notice boaters or other unnatural things in the waters, he said.

“They are not going to be looking out for something like a small boat,” he said. “It is not a natural occurrence to a wild animal. They are going to be intent on what they are doing and, unfortunately, we tend to kind of get in the way.”

Combined with a possible increase in whales, there are more boaters and recreational users on the water than ever before. While Stenson says boat and whale accidents are rare, these factors increase the chances of these occurrences.

Other than being more aware of their surroundings, Stenson said there is not a whole lot people can do to avoid accidents with whales. People tend to want to get closer, which he says they shouldn’t. It is illegal to disturb whales, he pointed out.

The scientist believes a whale doesn’t even notice some boaters or users in the water. The mammals have to come up for air at some point, and accidents could result. Sometimes it can be because people are careless, but other times people may not know these large animals are beneath the surface.

The whales likely won’t adapt to the presence of people, so it is incumbent on the people to be responsible, he said.

“We are really, really lucky here in Newfoundland to be able to see large whales,” he said. “Like anything else, you have to be careful.”

 

cory.hurley@tc.tc

Twitter: TC_CoryHurley

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