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B.C. whale-watching guide fined $10K for approaching killer whales

The court ruling stems from a May 2019 incident. Environmental groups have recently called on DFO to ramp up patrols, prosecutions and penalties for whale-watching operators 'routinely violating' legally established buffer zones set up for threatened killer whales.
whale watching guide
The owner and operator of the whale-watching outfit was found to have breached the Species At Risk Act and the Federal Fisheries Act.

A whale-watching guide from Campbell River, B.C., has been fined $10,000 in a provincial court after a judge found the man had knowingly breached legal buffer zones set up to protect endangered killer whales, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The ruling, handed down Sept. 13, but released today, stems from an incident on May 27, 2019, when Nicklaus Templeman, owner and operator of Campbell River Whale and Bear Excursions, reportedly came within 35 metres of a killer whale off Willow Point on Vancouver Island.

According to a spokesperson from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Templeman communicated over a VHF radio with a half dozen nearby whale-watching boats, acknowledging the presence of the pod.

“However, he continued to travel in their direction and positioned his vessel in a way to ensure that the whales would have to pass him in close proximity,” wrote DFO spokesperson Leri Davies in a press release.

The other whale-watching guides reported the incident to DFO’s Observe, Record, Reporting line, according to Davies.

According to court records, Judge Ronald Lamperson found Templeman guilty of two violations under the Species At Risk Act related to illegally harassing a threatened species, and one count for contraventions under the Federal Fisheries Act. He was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine for the violation of each act.

The decision requires Templeman’s fines go toward protecting marine mammals off the coast of B.C., Davies said.

The conviction comes two weeks after five environmental groups called on DFO and other enforcement bodies to ramp up patrols, prosecutions and penalties to deter any further violations. In their call for action, the groups cited a report from the marine mammal surveillance group, Straitwatch, which documented whale-watching operators “routinely violating” legally established buffer zones between their vessels and the whales.

Between 2020 and 2021, Transport Canada issued five monetary penalties totalling $24,750.

“There are numerous ongoing investigations underway that could lead to additional administrative monetary penalties,” Transport Canada spokesperson Sau Sau Liu told Glacier media last week.

But prosecuting such violations has resulted in few convictions.

In the summer of 2019, a Prince Rupert judge ordered a whale guide to pay a $2,000 fine for getting within less than 100 metres of a humpback whale. The fine represented the first conviction under new Marine Mammal Regulations.

Across Canada, it is illegal to feed, touch, swim or in any way interact with a marine mammal. Tagging or marking an animal, moving it or enticing it to move is also illegal.

Anyone who witnesses such infractions or finds a marine mammal in distress or dead, is encouraged to report it to DFO’s Observe, Record and Report line at 1-800-465-4336 or by email at [email protected].