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DFO asks boaters to keep their distance from marine life

With summer now in full swing and boat traffic on the rise, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is asking boaters to keep their distance from wildlife.

The department is asking boaters to keep their eyes on the water for aquatic mammals, particularly southern resident killer whales.

Boaters, including kayakers and paddle boarders, are asked to keep a minimum approach distance of 400 metres from the whales between Campbell River and around to just north of Ucluelet.

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The distance drops to 200 metres in all Canadian waters and for dolphins and porpoises.

Fishery officer Scotti Griffin says approaching the whales too close can cause distress and harm the creatures.

“When there are boats in the water, the physical object of a boat can obstruct them by obstructing their path to go get food,” said Griffin. “The noise that the boats create actually creates a lot of noise underwater and it affects their ability to echolocate, which helps them find their food.”

With the species being critically endangered, Griffin adds keeping them safe is a top priority.

Other animals in the water can be a concern for boaters. Humpback whales are not as aware of their surroundings, according to Griffin, and might not notice boaters in the area.

“They don’t have the ability to echolocate as orcas do, so they’re actually quite oblivious in the water and sometimes they just look like floating logs,” said Griffin. “So, boaters need to be aware that there isn’t just water out there, there are other things and if they collided with a whale that could be very detrimental.”

When out in the water, animals can seemingly show up out of nowhere. When those circumstances arise, Griffin says they recommend boaters stop fishing if they are within 1000 metres of the animal along with other recommendations.

“We would ask them to reduce their speed to less than 7 knots,” she said. “If you had fish finders or echo sounders, we would ask you to turn those off to help lower the noise disturbance, and then if your boat has an engine, we ask you to put that engine in neutral and let the animal pass.”

Griffin asks everyone to keep a safe distance from marine mammals and report any violations or incidents involving marine animals to Fisheries and Oceans Canada at 1-800-465-4336.

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