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Killer Whale Harassment and Disturbance Results in Successful Conviction Under Both The Species at Risk Act and the Fisheries Act

CAMPBELL RIVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Sept. 27, 2012) - A recreational boater from Campbell River has been convicted under the Species At Risk Act of harassing killer whales and under the Fisheries Act of disturbing killer whales. This is the first time that an individual has been found guilty of harassing orcas under the Species At Risk Act.

Carl Eric Peterson was found guilty in Campbell River Provincial Court on two counts of harassing and disturbing killer whales. The Fisheries Act, Marine Mammal Regulations specifically prohibit any disturbance of marine mammals, while under the Species At Risk Act it is illegal to harass a member of a wildlife species that is listed as extirpated, endangered or threatened. Sentencing will take place later in the fall.

The charges against Mr. Peterson arose from an incident August 3, 2010, when fishery officers on patrol in the waters around Quadra Island near Campbell River observed a recreational power boat repeatedly accelerating towards two killer whales as they surfaced then dove. The boat eventually powered up behind the orcas, at a distance of 15 to 25 metres away from the animals. This is contrary to the long established whale watching guidelines in Canada, which state a minimum distance of 100 metres should be maintained between vessels and orcas.

In court, Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist and subject matter expert Dr. John Ford testified that there is substantial scientific evidence that close approaches to killer whales by vessels have the potential to disturb or disrupt their normal behaviour. Such disturbances, if repeated and persistent, could cause long-term harm to the population.

Human interactions with marine mammals in their environment can affect their ability to cope and live in their habitat. The Be Whale Wise guidelines are designed to help the public enjoy wildlife encounters while reducing the risk of disturbing marine wildlife.

Growing eco-tourism industries, recreational boating activities, and other maritime industries have the potential to impact the survival and conservation of many marine mammal populations if vessel operator behaviour is not consistent with the Be Whale Wise guidelines, the Marine Mammal Regulations and the provisions of the Species At Risk Act. Violations can result in significant fines and penalties; from a maximum of $250,000 under Species At Risk Act legislation to $100,000 under the Marine Mammal Regulations.

British Columbia's two resident killer whale populations are listed as endangered (southern residents) and threatened (northern residents) under the Species At Risk Act. The Resident Killer Whale Recovery Strategy identifies physical and acoustic vessel disturbance as a potential threat to their recovery.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is concerned about marine mammal incidents and disturbances and asks for assistance from the public in reporting information. If you witness an incident, please call the 24-hour, toll-free Observe, Record, Report line at: 1-800-465-4336.

DFO's fishery officers regularly patrol marine mammal interactions, especially during boating season.