Nfld. & Labrador

More speeding boats getting too close and harassing whales, says rescue group

People zooming up to and on top of whales for the sake of a selfie is bad for both people and whales, warns Wayne Ledwell.

'It would be nothing at all for that whale to pull you under,' warns Wayne Ledwell

When it comes to getting close to whales for the sake of getting a photo, Wayne Ledwell warns there's no way to tell if a whale is caught in gear, which could get caught in your boat and pull you under. (Whale Release and Strandings/Facebook)

It's common this time of year for whales to get tangled in fishing gear, but what's becoming even more common is speeding boats getting as close as they can to whales — and that's seriously dangerous, warns a rescue group.

Wayne Ledwell, with the Whale Release and Strandings group, says they were called to four different entangled whales in a one-week period.

It would be nothing at all for that whale to pull you under.- Wayne Ledwell

The most recent one was on Saturday, when a humpback got tangled in a gillnet, trailing netting and buoys in Conception Bay.

Ledwell lives in St. Philip's and was able to be at the scene in about 40 minutes, but said he couldn't believe the amount of boats flying past while they were working to free the whale.

"There [were] boats going everywhere — recreational boats, fast boats — zooming in around just going every which way but loose," he said.

"Some people [were] coming in to look at the whale and some people [were] passing by the whale, not realizing it was caught. And it was pretty scary."

This whale was entangled in fishing gear just off Kelly's Island in Conception Bay on the weekend. (Whale Release and Strandings/Facebook)

'It's harassment'

The fisherman who owned the gear was also worried, and tried to warn boaters to stay away from the site.

"When the whale would come up the net would float, and … [with] them speeding by, the next thing your propeller is caught up in this net and you're going to be under as quick as you can blink an eye," said Ledwell.

"It would be nothing at all for that whale to pull you under … and you could have your whole family there with you."

Wayne Ledwell, with Whale Release and Strandings, says it's best to keep a safe distance when out whale watching, because you never know what's under the water or what a wild animal will do. (Submitted by Johanna Ryan Guy)

It was lucky, Ledwell said, they were so close and able to respond right away, because if the whale had moved to another area, it would have posed the same danger.

But eager people trying to get up close to a whale isn't uncommon, Ledwell said.

Wayne Ledwell says it's becoming more and more common for his group to see humpback whales with scars on their backs from propellers of boats that get too close. (Submitted by Joanne Thomas)

"With those whales that are towing an enormous amount of gear like that, people should be aware when they see a whale … there could be something on it and it's dangerous," he told CBC's The Broadcast.

"So you really need to be aware and not zoom up on top of it just because it's there — because for one thing, it's harassment anyway."

Not worth the risk for a selfie

People need to be aware that there's no knowing what's beneath you in the water, and a good photo isn't worth your life.

"What they're doing is zooming around the whales, and especially someone on some of these Sea-doos … and just rushing over to the animals, trying to get the best selfie or get the best video so they can put it up on social media," Ledwell said.

Ledwell said the group is also seeing more and more whales swimming around with cuts on their backs from propellers that sliced them open after getting too close.

"People are either just not aware or don't care, or maybe there needs to be some more education," he said.

With files from The Broadcast