Nfld. & Labrador

Don't get too close to whales, DFO warns

This year has seen a lot of whale activity in the waters of Newfoundland and Labrador, which can bring danger to both people on the water and the whales in it.

Frequent whale activity in Newfoundland and Labrador has some concerned about safety

A humpback whale off the shores of Newfoundland. (Submitted by Joe Kearney)

With so many whales hitting the Newfoundland and Labrador waters this year, some are warning against the dangers of getting too close.

Paul Babinbeau has been living in Bonavista for the past six years. He said this is the first year he's seen people getting so close to whales.

It's making him worry about the safety of the people on the water, as well as the whales in it.

"This year especially it's been troublesome to see the proximity of the boats to the whales," he said.

With the frequent, and often magnificent, whale sightings this year, Babinbeau said he goes out with his wife nightly to whale watch.

While he doesn't want to spoil anyone's enjoyment of the pastime, Babinbeau said he wants people to be careful to avoid boats or Jet Skis capsizing and people or whales getting hurt.

Drone captures humpback whale near Mobile, Newfoundland 3:42

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is also concerned about reports people are getting to close.

"We have some additional concerns this year in a few areas here … with interference and disturbance with the marine mammals," Jerry Walsh, chief of regulations at DFO, told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"In particular it's about Sea-Doos. It seems this year more than others that we're picking up some complaints. We're picking up reports of just very aggressive behaviour and Sea-Doo activity around humpbacks in particular."

'Racing aggressively toward whales'

Walsh said DFO has gotten reports of aggressive behaviour towards whales in the areas of Bell Island, Witless Bay and Bonavista.

The vast majority of people are compliant, it's just that small percentage that tries to push the envelope.- Jerry Walsh

"We're very concerned with this activity … and if we have adequate evidence of disruption and disturbance of marine mammals, particularly on people in small boats or Sea-Doos that are racing aggressively toward whales, we will seize the vessels and we will precede with charges under marine mammal regulations," Walsh said.

While Walsh said consequences of any charges would be up to the courts, the maximum fine for such an offense is $100,000 — though most cases haven't yielded such a fine — and the penalties can be severe.

"The vast majority of people are compliant, it's just that small percentage that tries to push the envelope. It seems they want to get as close as they possibly can, and that's not the messaging we want to provide," Walsh said.

"We want people to give the whales space. They're here to carry out what we call their normal life process. They're here to feed, to rear their young and migrate. Repetitive human interference causes an issue with that and it could threaten their conservation and their survivability."

With files from the St. John's Morning Show