Subject: whalewatching and effects on whales (fwd)

Mike Williamson (pita@www1.wheelock.edu)
Thu, 17 Sep 1998 13:06:08 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: newsclip - whalewatching and effects on whales

     Conservationists want whale-watching boats to slow down

     September 15, 1998

     BOSTON (AP) -- Whale watching is as much a New England activity as
     eating creamy clam chowder, cracking open lobster or taking in the
     fall colors.

     That simple, innocent image has been hurt, however, by two recent
     accidents in which whales were rammed by high-speed whale-watching
     boats.

     he collisions, which killed a minke whale and injured a humpback
     whale, have prompted soul searching in a $24 million-a-year industry
     dedicated to celebrating Earth's largest mammal.

     Some marine conservationists argue that the business must be better
     regulated and that boat captains should be forced to slow down in
     areas where whales feed.

     "I still feel horrible," said Capt. Bill Sanchez of the Millennium
     catamaran, which hit the humpback whale last month. "I can still feel
     that bump when it hit the ship. I never wanted to hurt any of these
     animals."

     "Something should be done about the speed limits because right now,
     there are none," Sanchez said.

     On August 2, the 120-foot Millennium -- one of the newest high-speed
     catamarans -- struck and injured a 2-year-old humpback whale off
     Stellwagen Bank, at the northern tip of Cape Cod. Sanchez said he sped
     up to about 21 mph because he thought there were no whales in the
     area.

     On Saturday, the 80-foot-long Whale Watch cruise ship struck and
     killed a 20-foot minke whale while on its way back to Cape Cod's
     Barnstable Harbor, according to Mason Weinrich of the Cetacean
     Research Unit in Gloucester.

     Horrified passengers said the whale's body was gored and bloody when
     it emerged in the boat's wake. Officials from the company that owns
     the boat did not return phone calls seeking comment on Monday.

     The U.S. Coast Guard has scheduled a meeting next week that will focus
     on the shared interest between boats and those who seek to protect
     marine mammals.

     Federal regulations require that whale-watch vessels stay at least 100
     feet from whales and never approach them head-on. But often that is
     difficult when some ships can reach speeds of more than 40 mph.

     "There are currently restrictions on how close the boats can get to
     endangered species," said Lt. Joe Duffy of the Coast Guard's Marine
     Safety Division. "But there are no restrictions on how fast the boats
     can go."

     National regulations for whale-watching tour companies were proposed
     in the early 1990s but many New England companies rejected the idea,
     saying they already had adequate guidelines, according to Nina Young,
     a research scientist for the Center for Marine Conservation, based in
     Washington, D.C.

     "Because the New England congressional delegation was very strong back
     then, those whale-watching regulations were withdrawn," Young said.
     "Now is a good time to revisit the whole question."

     Weinrich said setting speed limits of about 13 mph in areas such as
     Stellwagen Bank, a protected marine sanctuary, would be a good place
     to start. Still, he acknowledged, such restrictions may be hard to
     enforce.

     This summer has been one of the busiest seasons for more than 20
     whale-watching companies in New England. Passengers typically pay an
     average of $24 for a half-day trip to encounter humpbacks, minke and
     fin whales.

     Whale watching as a commercial activity began in North America in 1955
     along the Southern California coast. New England has since grown to
      account for nearly half of all whale-watching tours on the continent,
     according to the New England Whale Watching Association.

     "There is a growing trend in New England to use bigger and faster
     ships, but are we really looking at what impact it will have?" Young
     said.

     "We really need to ask ourselves if it is necessary to get from one
     place to another at such a pace that it jeopardizes people and
     animals."