Southern resident orcas off the west coast of Vancouver Island earlier this month. (DFO Pacific/Twitter)

Editorial: Admire killer whales, but from a distance

Boaters need to make an effort to stay 200 metres from killer whales

We’re lucky that killer whales choose the Comox area to hunt and frolick; now we need to be good neighbours, too, and give them space.

Orcas are once again active in the Salish Sea.

We’re happy to see them, but we need to be able to temper our enthusiasm. We’ve heard a couple of recent reports, including one last week, of boats crowding the killer whales. A reader said four orcas seen feeding off Saysutshun Newcastle Island quickly had five boats descend upon them.

Last year at this time, people did the same thing to a stray orca in the Comox harbour.

Coincidentally, last week Fisheries and Oceans Canada released a report on a southern resident killer whale that died of blunt trauma, likely from a ship, two winters ago.

Nobody is trying to crash into killer whales at sea, especially not the endangered southern residents, but coming too close can disturb, stress or harm marine mammals, says the government of Canada. In critical habitat areas, staying 400 metres away from killer whales is the law. Around Comox, not considered a critical habitat area, vessels must still keep 200 metres away. That includes not only the southern residents, but also the transients – as DFO tells us, it can be hard for a layperson to tell the difference, so best to be on the safe side, and in any case, the transients are a threatened eco-type themselves.

It could be argued that the federal government is asking us to do as they say, not as they do, as they push for pipeline expansion that would lead to increased tanker traffic, but that might be a topic for another editorial. Certainly, it shouldn’t lessen our determination to save the whales.

Killer whales have been swimming the Salish Sea since time immemorial, and even after all this time, it’s a special thing to see them. And they’ll continue to call this place a home, so long as we’re content to admire them from afar and leave them be.

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