I'm often asked whether boats disturb whales and interfere with their behaviour?
Of course, engine noise is a serious problem, and we haven't yet invented a silent engine, so it's hard to be quiet at sea!
In the marine park where I work, it's compulsory to leave the engines running so that the whales can locate us. We have speed restrictions (25 knots maximum in the park), and if the whale comes towards us, we have to be vigilant and leave the engine running. It's true that every day I witness unscrupulous tour boats and yachtsmen behaving in an unacceptable way towards marine mammals, and I'm the most angry myself. The tourists on board my boat see this, and very often ask me if this attitude is normal in a marine marsh? I've noticed that French customers are often sensitive to this problem, so I'm not the only one to see it.
I've seen boats run into whales, cut the road, increase engine noise to force the whale to dive and show its caudal fin (the whale's tail), disregard the mandatory 100-meter distance, want to be 2 meters from a whale for the eyes of customers, etc. .........
Frankly, in my team, I'm the only captain who respects the distances, and everyone recognizes this, to the detriment of the tourists on my boat who reproach me for not being closer to the whales! But how do you strike the right balance, and say that the other boats aren't doing their job properly? I've talked to my work colleagues about it, but the message doesn't go down well when it comes to self-discipline.
A tourist who arrives with his family from the other side of the planet just to come and watch the whales in Canada, is a customer who has paid dearly for his ticket. He's demanding and difficult.
I've been interested in these creatures for over 15 years, so I'm sensitive to their well-being and behavior, and I have to put my emotions aside or I wouldn't be able to continue working.
When I talk to former captains in the area, they all tell me that there are fewer whales than before, and meeting groups of 20 whales together used to be a common occurrence! Today, there are more boats and fewer whales. My first outings in 2000 as a simple tourist enabled me to see more. I can confirm this.
But is it due to boats or lack of food, climate change, industrial, chemical or noise pollution? Nobody knows.
In any case, come and see me on my boat, as a regular or mystery customer if you wish, and make up your own mind...........
Les Bergeronnes. Qc, Canada, August 2010.