While the orca T073B continues to swim in the Comox Marina, boaters are being reminded to stay at least 200 metres from the whale.
Peter Hamilton, Lifeforce founding director, has been watching boaters get too close to the orca all week. He said that being a responsible boater includes knowing about all laws surrounding marine mammals and putting them into practice.
Jared Towers, killer whale researcher with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, was part of the research team that came to the Valley on Saturday to monitor the orca. He said they were able to confirm that T073B is physically healthy, but is showing signs of stress.
“Looking at his behaviour, I don’t think he was particularly relaxed,” said Towers, adding the large number of boats in the water is likely the cause.
According to Towers, vessel traffic can affect a whale’s ability to forage, navigate and socialize. The acoustic masking caused by boats can make it difficult for whales to find prey or even communicate with other whales that may be in the area.
He said he has not heard of this whale exhibiting feeding behaviour which could impact the orca’s health.
“There’s a law in place for a reason,” said Towers. “If a whale is trying to communicate with other whales, or trying to listen for prey, and those things aren’t being effective, that can certainly stress an individual out. Minimizing stress by minimizing acoustic impact and vessel impact on the water are what we need to start promoting right now.”
He added that any boaters out on the water should stay in groups so as not to surround or corral the animal.
If the orca continues to linger in the area, Towers said DFO officers will likely be on scene this coming week to enforce the 200 metre rule.
“There’s been no fines handed out at this point, but the longer he stays in the harbour and the more complaints that we get – we’re getting complaints every day – that’s what drives enforcement efforts.”
To contact the DFO with any concerns, call 1-800-465-4336.