A boat approaching orca

Scuba diver fined $12K for getting too close to killer whales

By Kaitlyn Bailey,  Prince Rupert Northern View, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A provincial court judge has fined a scuba diver $12,000 for getting too close to a pod of killer whales near the Prince Rupert Harbour – the largest fine to be ordered for this type of offence.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said Aug. 22 that Thomas Gould, a scuba diver and owner of a commercial dive vessel, knowingly entered the water too close to a pod of seven northern resident killer whales near Prince Rupert Harbour on Apr. 25, 2020.

Fishery officers found evidence that Gould tried to motor ahead of the pod several times. He also entered the water in full diving gear too close to the whales on two separate occasions.

“Watching whales and other marine mammals in their natural surroundings gives Canadians an opportunity to better appreciate these beautiful animals, but when humans get too close, we risk disturbing and even harming them,” the DFO warned.

Northern resident killer whales are considered threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and there is scientific evidence that getting close to the mammals can disrupt their normal behaviour patterns, the DFO stated.

The killer whale pod in this particular incident has been returning to Prince Rupert every spring for more than 10 years, and signs in the area remind boaters of the minimum distance they are allowed to get to wildlife.

Justice Jeffrey Campbell found Gould guilty of violating Section 7 of the Marine Mammal Regulations, part of Canada’s Fisheries Act, on July 22.

The Marine Mammal Regulations were amended in 2018 and under the new regulations vessels must stay 200 meters away from killer whales in B.C. and the Pacific Ocean, and 400 meters away from killer whales in southern B.C. waters, between Campbell River and just north of Ucluelet.

If any whales, dolphins or porpoises are in resting position or with calves, vessels must give them a 200 metre buffer.

They must stay at least 100 metres from all other cetaceans.

The DFO urges people to call their hotline at 1-800-465-4336 to report sightings of mammals being harassed or disturbed as well as marine mammal injuries and entanglements.

Top image credit: Diver was charged $12,000 for getting too close to a pod of killer whales near Prince Rupert on July 22, 2022. An orca swims past a recreational boat sailing just offshore in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands. – AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File

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