Whale migration reminder to keep clear

KEEP A SAFE DISTANCE: Whale watching at the Head of Bight earlier this year. Picture: Andrew Brooks
KEEP A SAFE DISTANCE: Whale watching at the Head of Bight earlier this year. Picture: Andrew Brooks

Water users around Eyre Peninsula are being reminded to keep their distance while South Australia’s annual whale migration is in full swing.

Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) animal welfare manager Deb Kelly said DEWNR has received reports of boaties and paddle boarders getting a little too close to whales off the coast of the Fleurieu and Eyre Peninsulas.

“High-powered boats and jet-skis are not allowed closer than 300 metres to a whale, and paddle boarders and other conventional vessels must not come closer than 100 metres,” Dr Kelly said.

“Many of us dream of a close encounter with whales or dolphins, but there are rules in place for the animal’s safety and our own.

“The rules apply to all water users, including people in high-powered vessels, in cabin cruisers, yachts and small vessels such as tinnies and kayaks, and even to surfers and swimmers.”

Dr Kelly said whales are not used to human interaction and moving too close could could distress or even result in an injury, especially if their young were to be present.

“Signs that a whale is stressed include frequent diving, spending a longer time below the surface, increasing their speed, repeatedly changing directions, and frequent water spurts and tail slaps,” she said.

“If you see a whale, move away from it until you are at the legal distance [and] if you are in a vessel with an engine, cut the motor and wait.

“If you’re lucky, you may be treated to a wonderful experience on the animal’s own terms.”

Between mid-May and early October each year whales can be found in large numbers along the Far West Coast Marine Park at Head of Bight, heading down to the Encounter Marine Park at Victor Harbor and Middleton.

Seventy-four pairs and 14 adults have been spotted at the Head of Bight this season.

Whale watching has become one of the fastest growing nature-based tourism activities in the world. 

In South Australia about 400,000 people take part in this activity each year, injecting more than $9 million into the economy. 

The annual migration of whales to South Australian waters occurs during the cooler months, which is when they mate, give birth and nurse their young. 

Under the National Parks and Wildlife Act the maximum fine for getting too close to a marine mammal is $100,000.