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Whale-watching industry endorses new viewing distances

The Pacific Whale Watching Association has endorsed the federal government’s intention to keep boats farther from whales. The industry group represents 32 ecotourism operators in the Pacific Northwest, including many whale watching companies.

A statement forwarded to the Peninsula News Review said that “in the spirit of being precautionary and proactive the PWWA is updating its comprehensive operational guidelines to immediately reflect a 200-metre approach distance to SRKWs in the Canadian portion of the Salish Sea.”

The change is in response to an Oct. 26 announcement from Dominic Leblanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, who asked whale watching operators to voluntarily abide by a 200 metre following distance until final regulatory measures can be implemented before the next whale watching season.

Boat noise is considered a major threat to whales, as it is in the same frequency range as echolocation, which interferes with their ability to find food. Previously, boaters were only to remain 100 metres away.

PWWA said that it had already had internal discussions to increase the following distance since the U.S. already has a 200-yard regulation in place, and the statement noted that harmonizing the regulations was one reason they decided to endorse it.

In an email to the Peninsula News Review, Ben Duthie of Prince of Whales Whale Watching wrote that the owners and the executive of the PWWA will meet in Victoria on Monday to update whale watching guidelines, and that there will be future meetings to train operators on the new distances.

The PWWA now want to shift to other conservation efforts.

”Now that everyone agrees on the revised viewing distance requirements, PWWA membership feels strongly that ALL efforts must now be placed on chinook salmon protection and recovery effective immediately to increase prey availability for the SRKWs.”

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