Reminder to keep a safe distance from whales

As humpback whales begin their southern migration, tour operators and recreational vessel users are reminded to maintain a safe distance from these giants of the sea.

Senior marine operations officer John Edwards said it was important that people were not risking their safety or the safety of the animals by getting too close.

"At this time of year, people have a good chance of seeing whales along the Western Australian coast and we ask that those enjoying whale watching follow some simple guidelines when they're out on the water," he said.

"It's important to remember that if a whale approaches your vessel, you should either place your motor in neutral or move slowly away from the animal, at a speed of less than six knots.

"Getting too close, particularly if you're on a smaller boat, on a surfboard or kayak, or swimming in the water could put you at risk."

Mr Edwards said boaters should leave the area if a whale exhibits behaviour such as diving for prolonged periods or swimming evasively as it could mean that the whale is distressed or disturbed.

"Whales are large, powerful creatures and they may react aggressively if they feel threatened," he said.

Recently, researchers have observed recreational vessels getting too close to whales off Point Piquet.

Wildlife photographer Ian Wiese said they had seen several instances of boats and jet skis approaching, and even chasing southern right whales to within a few meters.

"In one instance the occupants in wet suits jumped into the water on top of the whales," he said.

"Unfortunately the endangered southern right whales often are the easy targets as they are not migrating through Geographe Bay, but this is where they have come to rest.

"The new mothers are here to bring up their calves until they have put on enough body fat to return to Antarctica to feed.

"Each time they are disturbed in this manner the southern rights have moved off and gone elsewhere. The calves are curious and will often approach boats, but mum is not always happy about this.

"We see very small numbers of southern right whales each year in Geographe Bay, and I am sure if they are left alone the numbers would increase, and we could all enjoy seeing them during winter in the bay.

"I urge all boaters to follow the Parks and Wildlife regulations for their own safety and for the safety of the whales (both humpbacks and southern right whales).

"And please avoid sudden changes in speed or direction (jet skis especially note). Remember that the noise from boat engines is deafening underwater."

The Parks and Wildlife Service has urged people to stay a safe distance of at least 100 metres from whales.

Approaching whales from behind or cutting off the path of moving whales in a boat is dangerous and penalties can also apply.

Boats must only approach whales from the side, and no closer than 100m.

The following regulations apply if you are within 300m of a whale: . A vessel must not approach a whale within a distance of 100m, and within an arc of 60 degrees of the whale's direction of travel or from behind.

If a whale does decide to interact with your vessel remain at a distance of 100m with your motor in neutral or move slowly away at a speed of less than 6 knots to maintain the 100m safe distance.

Vessels must abandon all interaction with a whale at any sign of distress or disturbance (including diving for prolonged periods or swimming evasively).

People in the water should not approach a whale closer than 100m and drones or other remotely piloted aircraft must stay at least 60m from a whale.

This story Keep a safe distance from the whales first appeared on Busselton-Dunsborough Mail.