Canada's largest ever fine for getting too close to killer whales has been levied against a B.C. man in connection with an April 2020 incident involving orcas near Prince Rupert Harbour.
Judge Jeffrey Campbell ordered Thomas Gould to pay $12,000 for violating Canada’s Fisheries Act, Section 7 of the Marine Mammal Regulations.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) said Aug. 22 that Gould, a scuba diver and owner of a commercial dive vessel, Ice Cube, knowingly interacted with a pod of seven northern resident killer whales.
DFO said evidence collected by fishery officers established the vessel had attempted to motor ahead of the pod several times, a practice known as “leap-frogging.”
It was also determined that Gould, in full dive gear, entered the water two different times in close proximity to the whales, DFO said.
DFO said the illegal activity was reported to DFO’s Observe, Record, Report line and was captured on security cameras in the area, which lead to the conviction.
The department said the pod identified in the incident has been returning to the Prince Rupert area every spring for more than a decade and that signage is posted in the area to aid boaters in determining the mandatory approach distances.
The federal government levied more than $45,000 in fines in 2021 for violations of whale protection measures.
Those minimums are outlined in Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations and apply to whales, dolphins and porpoises across the country.
All vessels must keep 200 metres away from killer whales in B.C. and the Pacific Ocean and keep 400 metres away from all killer whales in southern B.C. coastal waters between Campbell River and just north of Ucluelet.
Under the regulations, it is also illegal to swim, dive or interact with marine mammals.
Northern resident killer whales 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,” DFO said. “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.”