Whale watching from Saturna Island, BC. Photo © Andrée Fredette

Whale Watching?

Every spring, the cycle of whale watching begins anew in the waters around this island. I say cycle, but I could also use the word circus to describe what goes on.

Humpback whales, surrounded. Photo © Andrée Fredette

Over the past few weeks, humpback whales have been going back and forth in Boundary Pass, south of Saturna.

In the photo above, taken May 30 at around 2 p.m., there are two humpback whales (you can spot the back hump of one of them, on the left, close to the big boat). The whales are outnumbered, to say the least…

Whale watchers near Saturna Island, May 30, 2015, 2 pm. Photo © Andrée Fredette

Because there are only two humpback whales instead of a pod of orcas, the numerous boats jockey for position, so that their customers get a good view and/or picture of the whales. The boats are supposed to keep their distance, and not interfere with the path of the animals.

Below is the graphic I got from the Pacific Whale Watching Association (PWWA), illustrating the standards they are supposed to observe. Note that on the Canadian side, we are much more lax than the Americans: boats only have to stay 100 yards away from the whales, instead of 200 yards in US waters.

Pacific Whale Watching Association (PWWA) graphic re. standards

On its guidelines page, the PWWA piously offers the following information:

“The development of these Best Practices (guidelines) have given guests from around the world the ability to learn about wildlife through observation while creating minimal to no impact to the animals. The industry, government and non-governmental organization conservation management model employed in these waters (and initiated by PWWA) is one of the most comprehensive self-management conservation frameworks in the world. It has been proven to be one of the most utilized conservation tools wherever charistmatic, protected megafauna are viewed, and has been presented at the Conference of the North American Committee for Environmental Cooperation (NACEC) attended by the United States, Canada and Mexico.”

Much too close to humpback whales. Photo © Andrée Fredette

“…Minimal to no impact to the animals… Comprehensive self-management?…I beg to differ. The white boat above was constantly trying very hard to stay within the 100 yard margin. Captain got a big tip?

Explorathor whale-watching boat too close to humpback whales, and almost blocking their path. Photo © Andrée Fredette

And one of the Explorathors from Vancouver, above, is idling in the path of the whales, on purpose. Another no-no.

Whale watcher too close, boat ID Explorathor II. Photo © Andrée Fredette

Here are the boats in question. Above, Explorathor II. Below, Explorathor Express.

Whale Watchers too close, boat ID Explorathor Express. Photo  © Andrée Fredette

ID number for the white boat, which was otherwise unidentified: C19967BC.

Whale watchers too close, boat ID C19967BC. Photo  © Andrée Fredette

Tourism is a good thing. Educating the public about wildlife in an engaging and exciting manner is also a good thing. But you also have to treat the object of your interest with respect. Stick to the guidelines.

What exactly is too much of a good thing? How many boats should be allowed to surround two whales, and for how long?

Report any whale or orca harassment, here are the numbers:

In Canada to Fisheries and Oceans Canada
In the U.S. to NOAA Fisheries, Office of Law Enforcement