'It's just wrong': Activist aims to stop whale watching in B.C. waters
Published Sunday, November 3, 2019 1:28PM PST
VANCOUVER - A Vancouver Island artist is waging a war on whale watching in the Salish Sea.
"It's just wrong to harass wild animals in their natural environment for profit," said Jim White, who has taken to the seas in his 75-foot decommissioned military vessel dubbed "Seaquarium's Shame."
The name is a reference to the Miami Seaquarium, which is home to the southern resident killer whale Tokitae. White said he hopes to shame that organization into releasing the whale.
"The existence of the boat has drawn a lot of attention already, and I'm sure that Miami Seaquarium has received the message," he said.
White is also taking aim at the whale watching industry, saying he hopes to use his boat to disrupt their voyages in the waters between Vancouver Island and the mainland.
Aboard Seaquarium's Shame, White sets off colourful smoke bombs that are intended to obscure whale watchers' views of the whales and create a floating work of art.
He said he rejects the notion that there is a difference between what happens at Seaquarium and what happens aboard whale watching boats.
"A seat aboard a whale watching boat is like a seat in Miami's Seaquarium," White told CTV News Vancouver Island.
"When Tokitae is made to perform for selfies and photographs, the Miami Seaquarium declares that that is for education," he said. "When whale watching companies take international tourists out to see cetaceans in their natural environment, as close as possible for a selfie, they also say that it's for education … I disagree with that premise fundamentally."
For its part, the whale watching industry is not pleased with White's efforts and says it plans to fight back.
"To compare respectful eco-adventures to buying tickets at a Miami Seaquarium is an absurd statement," said Kelley Balcomb-Bartok, communications director for the Pacific Whale Watch Association. "This is teaching, again, people about our natural world."
Beyond rejecting White's arguments about his industry, Balcomb-Bartok also takes issue with the activist's methods.
"Smoke bombs, one, are illegal to fire off, so we'll turn him in with that," Balcomb-Bartok said. "But I would also suggest that this is a danger to navigation and a danger to our vessels, our companies, our passengers and the whales themselves."
White argues it's the presence of the whale watching boats that is dangerous, noting that if orcas wanted to be in close proximity to humans, we would have to charter boats to see them.
"Would it be OK to follow behind a family of bears with multiple vehicles -- let's say there were 100 people total -- all day long so long as you were 200 metres behind that family of bears?" White asked.
As of the end of October, 200 metres is the distance boats are legally required to keep between themselves and orcas.
The industry says it respects that requirement and will continue to be respectful, regardless of what White thinks.
With files from CTV News Vancouver Island's Sarah Reid