Taken from the Times Globe, Friday,
A minke whale surfaces near a
in the Bay of Fundy off Brier Island, N.S., in this
Fewer whales and more whale-watching
boats could spell trouble for the sensitive animals. One environmentalist
blames the province.
By Mike Hawkins
The pressure to give whale
watchers bang for their buck is making for increased pressure on the whales.
More whale watch companies than ever before are filling
their boats with passengers eager to get a close-up look at the natural
phenomenon in the Bay of Fundy.
But a downturn in the
number of the whales to view this year means more boats are crowding around
what few whales are available.
In some cases it's
testing the limits of the industry's new Code of Ethics.
Deborah Tobin, public education co-ordinator for East Coast Ecosystems in
Tiverton, N.S., says there haven't been any official complaints filed on the
problem, but she's not surprised the issue has arisen.
"There are less right whales here than people have sort of become used to in
the last couple of years," Ms. Tobin said.
are one of the most endangered animals on the planet and most of their
population lives in the Bay of Fundy. As a result, the right whale has become a
primary market tool for whale watching on both coasts of the Bay of Fundy.
Since 1993, right whales have been migrating to the Bay
of Fundy in ever-increasing numbers. The increasing presence of the rare animal
has been a boon for the whale watching industry.
year, their numbers have dropped, a normal occurrence, Ms. Tobin said, but the
numbers of whale watchers has increased.
government initiative to increase business for whale-watching may be feeding
the problem, she said.
"I've talked to people at New
Brunswick Tourism about this whole marketing thing that they've been doing.
Putting big, breaching right whales on the cover of brochures is building up an
unreasonable expectation," she said.
Now that the
numbers have dropped, the industry may begin to feel the pressure to downsize
"I think there will be a natural sorting out of
this. Not everyone's going to be able to stay in business,' she said.
David Welch of Fundy Tide Runners said the drop in whale
population is obvious when he considers last year's sightings. The dip is
probably primarily due to a lack of herring that many of the whales feed on, he
"In closer to land, we haven't had a sort of
bumper crop as we did last year," Mr. Welch said.
many boats around too few whales is exactly the type of behavior that the
industry's code of ethics was developed to prevent but it's becoming difficult
to adhere to for some whale watch companies and other boaters.
Mr. Welch said his company and others he knows of in the
St. Andrews area are strict followers of the code of ethics they signed last
year. That Code of
Ethics was prepared by East Coast Ecosystems and the provincial government.
The problem he has seen involves too many pleasure boats
and some whale watchers that he deems less ethical than the majority.
Especially on weekends, Mr. Welch says his boat is often
in the same area as many other whale watchers and pleasure boats.
According to the code of ethics, if more than three
boats are around a whale at a given time, they must stay 300 yards away from
it. When there are only one or two boats in the area of a whale the boat can be
within a hundred yards of the animal and their engines shut down for viewing.
"That makes it difficult on our side from a business
point of view in that you're trying to show your customers whales but you have
to stay considerably further away when there are more boats" he said. On some
days, he tells his customers up front that it is unlikely they will get closer
than 300 yards to a whale due to the expected traffic, he added.
"I think that most of the professional whale watchers in
this area are very aware that if there is five boats watching a minke whale,
that some one had better back off and go look for something else. And it
happens all the time," he said.
Regulation and education
will help to curb the problem, he said.
His industry is
one of very few he knows of that are very loosely controlled. The only
restrictions whale watch companies face is the number of people they can take
on board a given boat. Their behavior on the water is self-policed and Mr.
Welch says that's not enough for an industry that's growing so quickly and
affects such a sensitive environment.
"It's not the
first time and it's certainly not the last time that there would be more boats
than desired," he said.