Safe whale watching reminder issued
A guide on how to watch whales in safety has been issued by the environment department.
The set of guidelines was designed to ensure the safety of the public and minimise the disturbance caused to whales.
Officials said March and April were the peak months for spotting humpback whales as they travelled from breeding grounds in the Caribbean to feeding grounds on the eastern seaboard of North America and up to Greenland and Iceland.
A spokesman for the department said: “Watching these majestic animals, spouting, breaching or swimming along slowly with a calf is a thrilling experience and the department wishes to remind the public of how to observe the whales safely.”
But he warned boats should not get closer to whales than 100 metres or 300 feet and, if a whale approaches a boat, the engine should be put in neutral.
He added when a whale leaves, boat skippers should not be tempted to chase it.
The spokesman said: “The public is also strongly advised not to swim with whales. No matter how docile they may appear, a whale could unintentionally strike a swimmer with a casual tail or fin slap, causing severe injury or even worse.
“Those tails and fins are big and heavy. Also, boaters and swimmers may not intend to be intrusive, but getting too close to the whales can disrupt feeding, nursing and migrating behaviour.
“Boats, in particular, can cause unintended injuries to a whale.”
Regular changes in travel direction or speed
Tail slapping or trumpet blows
Changes in breathing patterns
Increased time spent diving compared to time spent at the surface
Changes in vocalisation
It is an offence to injure, disturb or harass a humpback or sperm whale and offenders can be fined up to $25,000 or sentenced to two years imprisonment.
The spokesman said reports of people injuring or harassing a whale should be made to the Department of Fisheries wardens at 535-4615 or to the Coastguard operations centre at 294-0610.
He added witnesses should take photographs or video footage of offences if possible and note the boat’s name and registration number.
Evidence can be sent by e-mail to email@example.com.