A provincial court judge has ordered the owner of a Campbell River whale-watching company to pay $10,000 in fines for getting too close to a pod of killer whales.
Nicklaus Templeman, owner and operator of Campbell River Whale and Bear Excursions, was found guilty of violations under the Species at Risk Act and federal Fisheries Act in Campbell River provincial court on Sept. 13.
He was ordered to pay a fine of $5,000 for each violation, and the judge ordered that the fines be used for the conservation and protection of marine mammals in B.C. waters.
The sentence stems from an incident on May 27, 2019, when Templeman was observed by two other whale-watching guides illegally approaching a killer whale within 35 metres near Willow Point.
Templeman acknowledged over the VHF radio that he was aware of the presence of the transient whale pod. However, he continued to travel in their direction and positioned his vessel in a way to ensure that the whales would have to pass him in close proximity.
There were six commercial whale-watching vessels in the area of the incident. The captains of those vessels provided witness statements, as did several of the tourists who were on board. The witnesses also provided photos and video statements.
Templeman’s activity was reported to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ reporting line by the other whale-watching guides and a fishery officer from the Campbell River detachment.
In a statement, the DFO said it has a mandate to protect and conserve marine resources and to prosecute offenders under the fisheries and species at risk acts.
It is mandatory to respect the approach distances in place for marine mammals, the federal agency said.
Marine-mammal regulations prohibit approaching the marine mammal, or attempting to trap it or its group between a vessel and the shore or between a vessel and one or more other vessels.
The DFO said Templeman contravened this section by approaching from behind within 35 metres and encircling the whales, and positioning his vessel near the shoreline, resulting in the two groups of orcas transiting between his vessel and the other whale-watching vessels that were offshore.
Bigg’s killer whales, often called transients, are considered to be at risk due to small population size.