Bitter divide in Aussie town after calls for jet ski ban at popular lake

Are jet ski riders really harassing dolphins, or are the accusations being made by older people who don't like fun?

Efforts to “cancel” jet skis on a popular Aussie lake are splitting a quiet town apart. At the centre of the uproar are allegations that “hoons” have been terrorising dolphins.

But one local council member believes the problem has been exaggerated by an “older crowd” who moved to the region from Sydney and now want peace and quiet. “It’s the same people who don’t like drag racing or don’t like motorsport, or don’t like younger people having any fun,” councillor Peter Howard told Yahoo News Australia.

While downplaying the problem, he accepts there are some “idiots” who do the wrong thing, and more policing is needed to ensure they follow the rules. “But to have everyone lumped into one basket is beyond the pale, certainly all the locals do respect our dolphins,” Howard said.

An aerial view of Lake Wallis
Locals have been feuding over the use of jet skis on Lake Wallis. Source: Getty

The division over jet skis is occurring across the 25km Wallis Lake which splits the towns of Forster and Tuncurry on the NSW Mid North Coast and feeds into the sea.

Councillor pinpoints cause of jet ski problems

While jet skis are permitted on the lake, they are banned on Sydney Harbour and at some Newcastle beaches, and Howard believes that’s part of the problem. “People who own them down there come up here on holiday and want to use their toys, and this is what happens,” he said.

The problem was first reported in the Daily Telegraph. It published allegations from a Surf Lifesaving NSW drone operator that the jet skis were driving many locals “nuts” and getting close to dolphins. A local Marine Rescue NSW volunteer told the publication he was also fed up with jet ski “cowboys”.

A man on a yellow jet ski looking at dolphins
Across Australia jet ski riders love engaging with dolphins. This image shows a man watching them in Victoria. Source: AAP

But accusations about hoons terrorising dolphins are not limited to that region. Around 4500 km away, on the other side of the country, a letter to the editor of the local newspaper in Busselton claims jet ski riders were showing a “lack of respect” and “frightening” dolphins.

It's not only jet ski operators who have been accused of harassing marine life. In 2022, Victorian authorities slammed motorboat drivers for getting too close to whales so they could film TikTok videos.

Reasons jet skis are 'harming dolphins'

Although dolphins are known to sometimes enjoy swimming in the wake created by jet skis, Humane Society International is concerned increasingly busy and noisy waterways are becoming problematic for them.

“We do have to remember our presence on the water changes the way that these animals behave,” marine biologist Lawrence Chlebeck told Yahoo. “While it could be seen that dolphins do enjoy it and we know that dolphins love to play, it is crucial that we behave responsibly on the water.”

Noise is an additional problem caused by jet skis, as is other motorboat noise. Dr Delphine Chabanne studies estuarine dolphins at Murdoch University, explained in shallow water, like lakes the noise can be louder, and it’s often more difficult for the animals to get away.

“Another aspect of the problem with human presence are collisions between animals and jet skis. They do not have a propellor like a boat, but they do go fast and collisions can be high risk, and people often don’t see them come up to the surface because we rarely have clear water,” she said.

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