VIDEO: Australia’s dolphins and whales harassed by water hoons

Everyone knows Australians love the ocean. And if they can’t be in it, they want to be on it. We have around a million boats in our waters and while most people are having a nice relaxing time, enjoying their surroundings, unfortunately there are a few whose irresponsible behaviour is putting whales and dolphins at risk.

Just this week we have seen news of two incidents (one in Tasmania and one in South Australia) where dolphins have been harassed by jet skiers, seen in the video below.

The world’s oceans are criss-crossed with busy marine highways and whales and dolphins are increasingly at risk from vessel strikes. The focus has been on large whales being hit by big commercial vessels, and IFAW has been at the forefront of proposing solutions such as shipping speed restrictions and redesigning shipping routes. But as these latest incidents highlight irresponsible use of small vessels is a threat to large and small whales and dolphins too. And they are not just at risk of collisions but they are also being disturbed by vessel noise.

For most people commonsense would dictate that if you see a whale or dolphin in the water, slow down, keep your distance and take some quiet time to appreciate their grace and beauty. And there are strict rules in place to protect whales and dolphins from disturbance and injury. Boaties and jet skiers etc should be familiar with these. 

It is against the law to deliberately kill, harass, chase or herd a cetacean (whale, dolphin or porpoise). In the cases above it is clear from the video evidence and the expert testimony that the animals were harassed.

Jet skis must stay at least 300m away and if approached by a cetacean the jet ski must move away slowly (less than 6 knots or roughly brisk walking pace) until they are at least 300m away.

The regulations also contain provisions for the interactions with whales and dolphins by all other vessel types:

  • Boats should not drift or approach a dolphin any closer than 50m and a whale any closer than 100m and not directly from the rear or the front of the animal;
  • Boats should travel at slow speeds within 150m of a dolphin and 300m of a whale;
  • No more than 3 vessels should be within the so-called caution zone (150m of a dolphin and 300m of a whale) at any one time.
  • If a whale (other than a calf) approaches your vessel or comes within the caution zone you must disengage the gears and let the whale approach or reduce the speed of the vessel and continue on a course away from the whale.
  • If a calf approaches your boat, you should immediately stop the vessel and turn off the engines, disengage the gears, or withdraw from the caution zone at a constant speed of less than 6 knots.
  • If a dolphin approaches you should move away with no sudden changes in vessel speed or course.

Sadly, every year IFAW hears of many incidences of whales and dolphins being disturbed. Many responsible whale watching operators are increasingly expressing concern about the irresponsible actions of a few recreational boat owners when interacting with whales and dolphins. This is a problem nationwide.

What can be done about it? Boaties need to be aware of the rules and adhere to them. Firstly, boaties need better education to help them understand the regulations relating to whales and dolphins. Secondly, and to help the first point, it would make sense to incorporate education about the regulations into boating licence tests where this is possible. Thirdly, better enforcement is needed to crack down on reckless and irresponsible sea users who put animals at risk and ruin the magical experience of witnessing whales and dolphins in the wild for everyone.

Just as no-one is impressed by drivers who speed and put lives at risk, no-one thinks big of hoons that do circle work around dolphin mothers and calves to impress their friends. Perhaps it’s unintentional or these people are paddling down the shallow end of the intelligence pool, either way this type of behaviour has no place on our waters.

--MC

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