Whale sightings increase in waters around Powell River

Upper Sunshine Coast offers opportunities to view marine mammals

A sunny day or weekend in the Powell River region provides ample opportunity to view spectacular marine life. Many boaters in the area have already been treated to the sight of orcas and humpback whales in the past few weeks, however, these interactions require awareness and respect, said Wild Ocean Whale Society founder Susan Mackay.

“We have about 40 humpbacks in the area; basically straight across from Comox up to Chatham Point,” said Mackay. “We’ve had a few pods of orca go through as well.”

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Seeing these marine mammalsup close can be an awesome sight, but it is important for boaters to be hyper aware that seeing one usually means others are close by.

“You might spot one whale, but don’t realize if there’s one there’s usually more than one,” added Mackay.  

“People need to be very cautious because there are so many whales, and not all of them can get out of the way fast enough. They are slower, larger animals,” she added.

Mackay said some have been struck in the region already.

“Not specifically in front of Powell River, but we are seeing a lot of boats with near misses with humpback whales in particular,” she said.

Another major concern is entanglement. An entangled whale is currently swimming around in the area, said Mackay, stressing that should boaters come upon it that they do not attempt to untangle it themselves but instead contact Wild Ocean Whale Society or the Fisheries and Oceans Canada hotline to report it.

“We have people who are setting prawn and crab traps and, as a reminder, all line is dangerous to these animals,” said Mackay. “Make sure your line is weighted down.”

New rules announced by Fisheries and Oceans last month ensure vessels must keep a minimum distance of 100 metres from most whales, dolphins and porpoises and 200 metres from killer whales, including the endangered southern resident orcas off BC’s coast.

Under the Fisheries Act, anyone who disturbs marine mammals can face penalties of $100,000 up to $500,000 for a criminal offence. Repeat offences could result in higher fines or imprisonment.More than anything, Mackay said boaters should slow down and enjoy the moment if they see the marine creatures.  

“If you find yourself close to them, shut down your engine and enjoy it; they put on amazing shows and if your engine is off they may come over,” she added. “Don’t panic; these whales are very aware if you’re stationary of where you are and don’t tend to touch the boat at all. But it’s pretty darned amazing.”

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