Campbell River whale-watching captain fined, banned from industry for getting too close

A Campbell River whale watching captain has been fined $6,000 and banned from the industry for 10 years after once again getting too close to a pod of killer whales.

Jason Allan Smith was found guilty in Campbell River Provincial Court on Jan. 30 for disturbing killer whales in violation of the Fisheries Act.

The judgment relates to an buffer zone from a group of orcas and “kept the boat within a close distance of the whales for an extended period of time,” according to a news release from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Smith was convicted of disturbing killer whales in 2011 for a similar incident from 2008.

Scientific evidence shows the close proximity of boats can disturb and disrupt the normal behaviour of the killer whales. Repeated disturbances “have the potential to cause long-term harm to the population,” the release stated.

British Columbia has two resident killer whale populations: a group in the southern waters that are listed as endangered and a group in the north that are designated as threatened under the Species At Risk Act.

Back in 2004, American whalewatching guide Jim Maya was fined $6,500 for disturbing the mammals by following within 30 m of a pod for three to five minutes off North Pender Island. A Victoria-based whale watch captain, Gerry Fossum, was also fined $6,500 for disturbing killer whales on the same day.

(U.S. and Canadian whale-watch boats are free to cross back and forth across the international boundary in search of whales provided they do not come ashore; during the peak summer months, the southern resident killer whales spend most of their time in the waters of Washington state.) Fisheries and Oceans asks anyone with information on potentially illegal activity – like getting too close to whales – to call 1-800-465-4336.