by Penny Robins
With the annual whale migration in full swing, boat skippers are reminded of their legal requirement to maintain a safe distance from all marine mammals.
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NSW Maritime Chief Executive Steve Dunn said the same rules applied to both recreational and commercial boat skippers.
'Skippers, regardless of whether they are offshore or in a sheltered harbour or bay, need to respect whales’ size and space requirements,' Mr Dunn said.
'There are guidelines to protect marine mammals and these are enforced by NSW Maritime and National Parks & Wildlife Service officers and punishable with a maximum fine of $110,000 or two year imprisonment, or both.
'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 Dunn said it was also important operators of commercial whale watching vessels – who operate under a code of practice - gave consideration to other vessels that may be queued 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,' Mr Dunn said.
'Obviously the main thrust is to protect marine mammals and know how to operate safely in their environment, but it is also important for boat operators to be fair and equitable in allowing others to view the same pod of whales.'
• For a boat to be near a whale or whale pod is 100 metres
• For a boat to be near a mother and calf is 300 metres
• For an aircraft is 300 metres or helicopter is 500 metres
Mr Dunn said it was especially important for all vessels both recreational and commercial to carry the correct safety equipment and keep a close eye on the weather forecasts and sea conditions.
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