Onlookers shocked as skipper gets too close to Port Fairy whales

A TRENTHAM boat skipper could face maximum fines of just $2500 after his boat got within metres of four whales.

About 50 onlookers were left horrified after the skipper appeared to trail the whales from near the Port Fairy lighthouse for about a kilometre to the centre of East Beach for 30 minutes at Port Fairy on Friday evening.

Port Fairy police had to activate emergency sirens in a bid to attract the attention of the boat skipper.

The 40-year-old skipper, his nine-year-old son and a 35-year-old male passenger were interviewed by police at the Port Fairy boat ramp.

Police said the Wildlife Act  restricts skippers from having their boats within 200 metres of whales in open waters and skippers risked fines of up to about $2500.

The penalties are much lower than those that apply for whale exclusion zones,  for example at Warrnambool’s Logans Beach, where fines of up to $110,000 for interfering with whales apply. 

Port Fairy police Senior Constable Allan Pugh said police received five telephone calls from whale watchers late Friday afternoon.

He said police spoke to the boat skipper, a man from Trentham in central Victoria, and viewed pictures that were  from the boat of the whales.

Senior Constable Pugh said the skipper’s explanation was that the whales followed him.

He said information would be passed on to Department of Sustainability and Envir-onment (DSE) which was responsible for any prosecutions in relation to whales.

The action started about 5.15pm Friday when whale watchers noticed the boat and the four whales moving across the bay. A witness said he was staggered to see how close the boat was to the southern right whales.  

He said a crowd gathered near the East Beach toilet block as the drama unfolded, which lasted almost half an hour.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years of whale watching,” he said.

“It would only have taken a whale to nudge the boat and it would have capsized.

“I was extremely concerned for the safety of the child. 

“Even with a life jacket on he was still about 250 metres off shore and his life was in peril.

“Police officers arrived in minutes and did everything they could to make the skipper realise the danger he was in. I’ve never seen a boat as close to a whale as that.

“It was beyond belief that someone would be that close for so long, especially with a child in the boat.”

DSE was unable to be contacted yesterday. 

athomson@standard.fairfax.com.au

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