Massive animals, small vessels ‘never good combination’: Mass. boaters urged to give whales space

PLYMOUTH, Mass. — Federal and local officials are urging boaters to steer clear of whales following a slew of close encounters in the water off Plymouth.

NOAA Fisheries, Plymouth town officials, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Massachusetts Environmental Police, and the U.S. Coast Guard provided information and answered questions on Friday during a news conference on recent vessel interactions with three juvenile humpback whales that are feeding off Plymouth.

Officials begged the public to view the whales from a safe distance instead of invading their space because they are food focused and observing them up-close creates a safety hazard.

“We are fairly certain that with the increasing abundance of menhaden (baitfish) in our waters and increasing abundance of humpback whales, we can anticipate that these types of events may continue to occur in the future and possibly with increased frequency,” said Bob Glenn, a biologist with the Division of Marine Fisheries.

The large amount of baitfish, commercial fishermen, and spectators are leading to a “unique challenge,” according to the Plymouth Harbormaster.

Environmental police say they have been seeing hundreds of boats in the water during the weekdays and expect even more on this weekend with beautiful weather on tap.

Many viral videos of encounters with whales in the area have emerged in recent days, including one taken by a boater that showed a breaching whale landing on a boat. The six people on board that boat, who were fishing at the time, were unhurt. The whale was not injured.

Officials asked boaters to stay at least 100 yards away from whales whenever possible, limit observing time to 30 minutes, refrain from trapping whales between their boat and the shore, respect the space between the mother and her calves, and to stay away from food sources.

“These are very large animals that can weigh anywhere between 40,000 to 60,000 pounds, depending on their age, and a collision or interaction with these large whales can cause severe damage to the vessel, injury to the whales, or even severe injury or even death to humans who happen to be hit by them,” Glenn said.

Whales may become more unpredictable when vessels encroach upon their space due to their young age, according to Glenn

“We understand that these are majestic animals and the public would like to view them, and that’s fine, but they need to do so at a safe distance,” Glenn said.

Boaters who harm or alter the behavior of a whale in the wild could face fines of up to $11,000 and imprisonment up to one year under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Troy Audyatis, of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, warned.

“These are 40-ton animals and small fiberglass boats is never a good combination,” Audyatis said.

Audyatis noted disciplinary actions have not yet been taken against boaters who have visited the area.

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