The Pacific Whale Watch Association is looking to communicate with a Victoria activist who is sailing a boat of shame on the Salish Sea in an effort to end commercial whale watching.
“We’re not impressed,” said Kelley Balcomb-Bartok, a spokesperson for the association. “He missed the opportunity to communicate with us about what the association is doing on behalf of the whales and to come up with best practices.”
James Whitehead, who is using the name Jim White for his demonstration, is a captain and performance artist who plans to protest commercial whale watching with a 75-foot former Canadian Forces Navy vessel that he has named the Seaquarium’s Shame.
The vessel has been painted red with representations of the southern resident killer whale spirit pod at the base. A photograph of it also shows what appears to be purple and orange smoke bombs being set off on it.
Whitehead said the changes whale watching companies made after an interim order – prohibiting vessels from approaching any killer whale within a 400-metre distance – handed down from the government, proved that the companies are aware of the impacts their boats can have on whales. Following the order, the Pacific Whale Watch association signed an agreement to stop offering tours of Southern Resident orcas, with a caveat that they could approach transient orcas to a distance of up to 200 metres.
|Eagle Wing Tours operates out of Victoria and is a member of the Pacific Whale Watch Association. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)
The order lifted on Oct. 31 and Balcomb-Bartok said the association is back to offering tours of the Southern Resident orcas, keeping a 200-metre distance from them.
“We’ve always had a position of showing our respect for the whales and many Canadian vessels decided to simply look elsewhere with the abundant transient whales out there and the humpback comeback that’s going on,” Balcomb-Bartok said.
In fact, the association considers Whitehead to be a threat and added that while the association tests its vessels for sand and exhaust, it does not know what Whitehead is doing to test his vessel.
“If he’s going to come out and protest in front of whale watch boats one would assume he would be in the vicinity of the whales,” Balcomb-Bartok said.
He also noted the association has been involved in working with Canadian and U.S. governing bodies to establish best practices for whale watching. The association collects data on the whales and uses an internal app to let vessels, researchers and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans know about the location of whales or any other concerns as well.
Balcomb-Bartok said the real threat to killer whales at the moment is the depletion of salmon populations and said Whitehead should be focusing on that rather than trying to stop commercial whale watching companies.
“Southern residents are dying off becase there aren’t fish to eat…if we kill salmon we’re going to kill the whales,” Balcomb-Bartok said. “The interim order was well-intentioned but it was a distraction from this real issue.”
If the association has a chance to talk with Whitehead, Balcomb-Bartok said he’d be getting a compliment on his vessel’s paint-job.
“We see he has a spirit to help whales so that’s wonderful. He’s just misguided and misinformed,” Balcomb-Bartok said. “Our story is really one about professional captains, passionate naturalists and people who love these whales and have a desire to protect and preserve them.”
-With files from Nina Grossman