by Penny Robins
Boat skippers are reminded, by Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), to keep a safe distance from marine mammals after a reported close call involving a group of kayakers and a pod of whales on the weekend.
NSW Transport Roads and Maritime services
Acting General Manager Maritime Operations Trevor Williams said there was a legal requirement for skippers – both recreational and commercial - to maintain a safe distance from all marine mammals.
'RMS received a report from a commercial whale watching operator that on Saturday morning a number of vessels were following requirements and safely observing a pod of Humpback whales about a mile off Sydney Heads when three kayakers joined the group coming within metres of the whales,' Mr Williams said.
'There are guidelines to protect marine mammals and these are enforced by RMS and National Parks & Wildlife Service officers and punishable with a maximum fine of $110,000 or two year imprisonment, or both,' Mr Williams said.
'Skippers need to respect whales’ size and space requirements for the safety of all involved.
'Vessels must always travel at a safe speed which will enable them to stop in time to avoid distressing or colliding with an animal. This speed cannot be expressed as a maximum number of knots as it will vary according to the circumstances and conditions.'
Mr Williams said it was also important for boat operators to be fair in allowing others to view the same pod of whales.
'Only three boats are permitted to be inside the viewing circle – 100m for whales and 300m from calves – at any one time. For safety reasons, skippers of any other vessels in the vicinity must be reasonable and wait their turn,' he said.
Boats must not approach any closer than:
• 100 metres from a whale or whale pod
• 300 metres from a mother whale and calf
Fixed wing aircraft must not approach any closer than 300 metres and helicopters no closer than 500 metres.
RMS will investigate the incident.
Roads and Maritime Services NSW website