Wildlife-watching tours safe despite incidents, official says

The Stellar Sea struck a rock that was a known hazard during a bear-watching tour off the west coast of Vancouver Island in October 2016.

2 injured, 28 abandoned ship when bear-watching boat struck a rock in 2016

The Stellar Sea is shown about an hour after it ran aground on a rock off the west coast of Vancouver Island on Oct. 1, 2016. (Transportation Safety Board)

The wildlife- and whale-watching industry is safe despite three incidents resulting in deaths and injuries in less than two years, according to a Transportation Safety Board manager.

Mohan Raman, manager of regional operations for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, was speaking with On the Island's Khalil Akhtar about the latest TSB report on a bear-watching tour boat that ran aground.

The Stellar Sea hit a rock that was a known hazard off the west coast of Vancouver Island on Oct. 1, 2016.

Two people suffered minor injuries from falls and all 26 passengers and two crew members were forced to abandon the vessel.

"It was basically that it was insufficient planning and there was no lookout posted," Raman said.

To do it correctly, he said, "you go to see exactly what hazards you encounter on the way to this particular place, and that's the kind of passage planning and looking out for hazards." 

Overall, Raman said, there are few concerns and few serious incidents in the wildlife-watching industry.

A Prince of Whales Whale Watching boat docked in Coal Harbour. A different zodiac vessel operated by Prince of Whales struck a humpback whale at Race Rocks near Victoria in August 2017. (David Horemans/CBC)

The Stellar Sea, which was owned by Jamie's Whaling Station of Tofino, went aground less than a year after the capsizing of the Leviathan II, a whale-watching boat operated by the same company. Six people died in that incident.

In a third incident near Victoria in August 2017, two people were injured when a Zodiac vessel operated by Prince of Whales Whale Watching struck a humpback that surfaced without warning in front of the vessel.

Raman said the whale strike was "no fault of anyone."

"Overall I think it's pretty much safe, the industry" he said. "I don't see any issues there."

Six people died after the MV Leviathan II capsized near Tofino during a whale-watching tour in October 2015. (CBC)

Raman said Transport Canada has not yet taken significant action on one of the key recommendations from the June 2017 TSB report on the Leviathan II sinking.

The report urged that passenger vessel operators across Canada be required to adopt risk-management processes to identify hazards and the strategies to deal with them.