A distressing video filmed in the waters off Western Australia has sparked an urgent warning from marine experts.
The video released by WA’s Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions [DBCA] shows the moment a small vessel travelling at high speed runs over the back of a humpback whale that had surfaced.
The runabout appears to hit the whale’s back as it arches about the surface, with the driver of the boat slowing down after the impact is made.
One marine expert described the video as “alarming”, and said it serves as a timely reminder for boaters to maintain safe distances from migrating whales.
“Boat strikes are one of the main threats to whales globally, and it’s something that is on the increase,” CEO of Australian Marine Conservation Society Darren Kindleysides told Yahoo News Australia.
Damage to the whale can depend on the size and speed of the vessel – “a bit like a car crash,” Mr Kindleysides said – but the impact can be enough to kill a whale.
“It can be lethal but it can also cause injuries that can limit its ability to migrate.
“It’s crucially important we protect them, that’s why we have guidelines to maintain safe distances between boats and whales on the water.”
Boaters could see fines of up to $500,000
The incident occurred on July 18 in the waters off the Kimberley coast, where whale season is currently in its peak.
In WA, boats must stay at least 300 metres away within a 60-degree arc to the front or rear of a whale, and 100m away from the side of a whale.
Penalties of up to $500,000 apply for anyone who does not comply.
But it’s not just the whales who are at risk with reckless behaviour.
“The rules around how close you can get to a whale on a boat are as much to protect the people as they are to protect the whales, because these are large animals in the wild and a small boat hitting the whale at speed can throw people from the vessel or could turn the boat over,” Mr Kindleysides said.
“When whales are startled they react in unpredictable ways. These rules are to protect us and to protect whales.”
Humpback whales were recently taken off the endangered animals list, but despite the positive step forward Mr Kindleysides said the mammals are facing more threats than ever before.
“Whales are more threatened now than they’ve even been. There’s a range of threats facing whale populations, like climate change, bycatch (being tangled up in fishing nets), plastic pollution… as well as boat collisions.”
Anyone who witnessed or knows any information relating to this incident on July 18 is urged to contact the Parks and Wildlife Service Broome office on (08) 9195 5500.
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