Call for more whale protection
A HERVEY Bay whale tour operator is calling for more protection of the giants of the deep in the Great Sandy Strait Marine Park.
As the 2011 season draws to a close the operators are questioning why they didn't see more patrols by DERM rangers in the bay.
Whalesong operator Jason Brigden said the local whale watching fleet paid at least $80,000 in fees to DERM this year and most of that money should be going back into funding ranger patrols.
"I only saw rangers patrolling about six times this year, a significantly lower number than previous years," he said.
"There were days over the past few months when I watched in dismay as whales were seriously harassed by private boats and jet skis - they were just going right over them.
"I say either our money goes to ranger boat patrols and they're out on the water, or we don't pay fees at all."
Despite his concerns, DERM defended its surveillance this year saying that rangers had made more than 200 patrols in the Great Sandy Marine Park so far this year, with 90 of those occurring within the Whale Management Area.
Tour operators were required to follow regulations under their permits which prohibited them from coming within 100m of whales and limited the number of boats around a pod of whales.
"It seems some private boat owners are either unaware of these regulations or just ignore them," Mr Brigden said.
He said there was a "no permit - nothing to lose" mentality among some private boat operators, which encouraged reckless behaviour around the whales.
Mr Brigden predicted boats striking whales was becoming more and more likely with the increase of whales and boats.
"An increase in ranger patrols on particularly busy days, such as school holidays and weekends could help reduce the danger," he said.
Mr Brigden said a proposal to redirect fees into tourism marketing was "flatly refused" by DERM.
- Boats cannot go any closer than 100m from a whale
- Boats cannot go any closer than 300m if three or more boats are already closer than 300m to a whale
- Boats cannot go any closer than 300m if moving in a similar direction to or behind a whale, moving at more than four knots
- Swimmers should move carefully away if a whale approaches them.