British Columbia

Victoria whale watching company blasts navy over loud training exercises

SpringTide Whale Watching alleges navy sailors were conducting loud blasting while killer whales were nearby. Navy officials say protocols were followed and whales were not endangered.

SpringTide Whale Watching alleges detonations were disturbing whales, navy says marine rules were followed

The Marauder IV prepares to depart on a whale watching excursion from Victoria, B.C., on Aug. 3, 2017, the day the company says the Royal Canadian Navy was conducting blasting exercises while whales were close by to Bentinck Island. (SpringTide Whale Watching & Eco Tours.)

Whale watching companies in Victoria are upset with the Royal Canadian Navy, claiming loud training exercises went ahead even though a pod of endangered southern resident killer whales was nearby.

Navy ships from CFB Esquimalt often conduct exercises with explosives at Bentinck Island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and follow protocols to stop blasting if boats or whales breach a one-kilometre buffer zone.

Mark Williams with SpringTide Whale Watching says that protocol wasn't followed on Thursday when he was with a group of tourists near the Race Rocks ecological reserve watching nearby killer whales.

"All of a sudden there was a huge blast or a number of blasts from Bentinck Island," he said.

"We were obviously very shocked and scared and weren't sure what was happening at first. It was a really huge bang. We actually felt it in our chest on the boat. So imagine what the whales would have felt."

  • VIDEO | Watch as SpringTide Whale Watching operators argue between vessels with navy sailors:

B.C. whale watching rage at Royal Canadian Navy

6 years ago
Duration 0:45
Operators with SpringTide Whale Watching allege the navy did not cease blasting exercises when killer whales were nearby Bentinck Island off Victoria B.C.

The whale watching industry is hoping to set up better communication with the navy around the location of whales.

Security procedures followed: navy

But the navy says it has looked into the incident and disagrees that the whales were too close.

It says the whales were outside of the one-kilometre buffer zone; a sentry boat keeps watch and advises range operators if marine mammals are detected nearby.

"We are confident after hearing the exchange between the parties involved off Bentinck Island ... that safety and security procedures were properly followed,' said Lt. Tony Wright in a statement.

"At no point were any persons or marine wildlife in danger. We advise all marine operators to respect safety distances when operating in the vicinity of naval operations, exercises or training."

Still, Dan Kukat, who owns SpringTide and is the liason to the navy for the Pacific Whale Watch Association, wants to meet with navy officials.

"Our whole purpose in this whole exercise is only to do whatever we can to ensure that something like this doesn't happen again here or elsewhere."

The navy says it "is extremely conscious of our environmental impact and we go to great lengths to ensure that our operating procedures are in-line with government policy and create the smallest impact."

With files from Megan Thomas.