August 29th 2006
Whales harassed across Cleveland Bay
Reports alleging herding of whales by boaties and jet skis on Sunday in Cleveland Bay have been made and, to assist authorities in identifying who may have been involved in the activity, magnetictimes.com is hoping that readers with information may be able to help.
A report in the Townsville Bulletin yesterday quoted a Magnetic Island witness who said, "a jet skier and a couple of other boaties caused havoc for the whales by circling them and getting too close."
It is alleged that the craft were actually herding the whales and that the four whales had come close to beaching themselves on Radical and Balding Bays.
At about 2.15pm magnetictimes.com staff witnessed similar harassment of whales well out into Cleveland Bay, between Nelly and Picnic Bays. A small flotilla of craft could be seen following the whales which were constantly breaching. In particular a jet ski could be seen circling the whales and although it seemed to be very close to the whales it was impossible, from our angle and distance of over 2km, to judge clearly. If it was the case that these were the same vessels reported by the Bulletin then the harassment continued from Balding Bay for a very long way - perhaps 12 kms or more.
Magnetictimes.com has learned that the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) vessel was in the water west of Magnetic Island at the time and when they were notified of the events at Radical and Balding proceeded there but found the whales and boaties causing problems had left. Later they proceeded towards the port where we understand they were able to begin management of the whale watching. It appears however that they arrived after the harassment we witnessed.
Later in the day private jet skis were seen moving at high speed in Florence Bay within 100 feet of swimmers and close to the shore.
But while jetskis were seen as a danger to swimmers they and whale harassing boaties may themselves be in danger from humpback whales which can weigh up to 40 tonnes and grow to 15 metres.
Mr Geoff Clare, Executive Director Conservation Services, Environmental Protection Agency made a number of important points regarding public behavior when whale watching and told magnetictimes.com, "The laws are in place to protect whales and people. Humpback whales are very large and unpredictable creatures. Skylarking around such big animals is extremely unwise. Humpbacks have been known to approach vessels and push them, and a flick from an adult's tail can be lethal.
"The number of whales in Queensland waters is increasing every year and there is some evidence that animals are becoming less wary of vessels."
The guidelines for whale-watching are set out in the Queensland conservation plan for whales and dolphins, available at www.epa.qld.gov.au. The same rules are in the Commonwealth regulations on whale-watching.
Importantly it must be noted that the limit for Jet Skis around whales is 300m whether or not other vessels are around.
QPWS and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) do regular patrols in the Marine Park. However, as it is a vast area and there are numerous whales (perhaps 8000 this year) along the Queensland coast during the annual migration, QPWS asks everyone using marine areas to play it safe and follow the guidelines. Most vessel skippers and personal watercraft users behave responsibly.
For the record, if you see someone behaving unsafely around whales, record their vessel's registration details, the time and place the behavior occurred, and pass details to QPWS. In the Townsville area, call 4722 5243.
Information for jetski riders on proper behavior can be found at http://www.msq.qld.gov.au/qt/msq.nsf/index/msq_pwc
Story and file photo of a resting whale in Nelly Bay last week by George Hirst
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