Fraser Coast whale watch operators turn off the engines and allow the whales to approach the boats.
Fraser Coast whale watch operators turn off the engines and allow the whales to approach the boats.

Close encounters under scrutiny

HOW CLOSE Hervey Bay whale operators are allowed to get to mother whales and their calves could come under scrutiny with the Federal Government looking closely at Australia-wide laws.

Hervey Bay Whale Watch owner and Whale and Dolphin Watch Australia vice-president Brian Perry met with Federal Minister for the Environment Peter Garrett in Canberra last week as part of whale industry talks. Joining him were Fraser Coast South Burnett Tourism’s Paul Massingham and eight whale watch operators from across the country.

The government invited industry representatives to discuss any possible future changes to operator guidelines.

Mr Perry said the Commonwealth was looking into standardising laws for inshore waters and open ocean.

Highlighted as one possible change was restricting operators from travelling any closer than 300 metres to whales when a calf was in the pod. Currently operators are allowed within 100 metres.

Mr Perry said the meeting was about the government working with operators and throwing around suggestions.

However, he had his reservations about trying to standardise rules.

“The major concern is whale watching in general is probably one of the fastest-growing tourism industries in Australia. It’s not just happening in one place,” he said.

“The government is now seeing it as a big potential business and want to have regulation on it. Some operators are for regulation and some are against it.

“I don’t think one set of rules can work everywhere; every place needs to be individual.”

Mr Perry and Mr Massingham explained to the meeting how Hervey Bay operators work together and turn off boat engines to allow whales to approach tourists.

“We’ve proved it works here in Hervey Bay. For 20 years we’ve had these rules; it’s worked here, there are no problems,” Mr Perry said.

One of Mr Garrett’s main concerns, he said, was calves in general, not only whales but dugongs and dolphins.

Also on the table were sister city situations where people from countries such as Japan would be offered incentives to visit Australia and go on whale watch tours. Mr Perry hoped such a plan would increase public awareness in Japan about protecting whales.

Operators will now make submissions to Mr Garrett about what they believe should be done.

“It’s not something that will happen tomorrow but at least it’s a start,” Mr Perry said.

‘We’ve proved it works here in Hervey Bay. For 20 years we’ve had these rules; it’s worked here, there are no problems’



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