A scuba diver who ran his dive-boat close to a pod of orcas before diving in with them has been landed with the biggest fine ever issued for such an offence under Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations.
Thomas Gould was ordered to pay Can $12,000 (£7,830) by Judge Jeffrey Campbell in Prince Rupert Provincial Court for an incident that occurred on 25 April, 2020. From his commercial dive vessel Ice Cube, Gould was said to have “knowingly interacted” with seven northern resident orcas near Prince Rupert harbour, British Columbia.
Fisheries & Oceans Canada (DFO) officers established that he had used Ice Cube in attempts to “leap-frog” or motor ahead of the pod several times. They also provided evidence that Gould had twice entered the water “in full dive gear” in close proximity to the orcas.
His activities had initially been reported on DFO’s “Observe, Record, Report” public hotline and were also captured on security cameras in the area.
Under Canada’s federal regulations it is illegal to swim, dive or interact with marine mammals, with minimum approach distances to whales, dolphins and porpoises specified for all boats. In the Pacific Ocean off British Columbia, vessels must stay at least 200m away from orcas, with the distance increased to 400m in specified waters to the south of the province.
Northern resident orcas are listed as Threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. “There is substantial scientific evidence that close approaches to killer whales by vessels can disrupt the normal behaviour patterns of these animals,” says DFO. “Approaching marine mammals too quickly, coming too close or making too much noise can disturb, stress or even harm them. If you see tail, fin or spray, stay far enough away.”
The orca pod identified in the incident had been returning to the Prince Rupert area every spring for more than a decade, and signs were posted in the area to remind boat-users of the legal restrictions. DFO says that it enforces these through land, air and sea patrols, as well as education and awareness activities. The public are requested to report instances of marine mammals being harassed or disturbed, or sustaining injuries or entanglements.
“Watching whales and other marine mammals in their natural surroundings gives Canadians an opportunity to better appreciate these beautiful animals, but when humans get too close, we risk disturbing and even harming them,” says DFO. “Canada has laws in place to ensure that marine mammals can be enjoyed at a safe distance.”