Regulations prohibit boats from approaching closer than 50m
Operators claim new federal regulations meant to protect marine mammals could put them out of business. Wally Daudrich, president of the Beluga Whale Tourism Association and owner of the Lazy Bear Lodge in Churchill, Manitoba, claims rules prohibit boats from approaching belugas any closer than 50 metres.
"As soon as our boats are in the water it's usually a matter of minutes that pods of beluga whales [approach]," he said Wednesday. "It's impossible not to see beluga whales when you look at the [Churchill] river here in July and August. It almost looks like it's storming out because it looks like white caps, but it's actually ... beluga whales. It's not unusual to go out for a three-hour tour and see a thousand whales."
Daudrich says the difference between belugas and the species of whales on the east and west coasts is that belugas are very curious and are far more numerous. "What DFO is doing is essentially taking international regulations which have already been applied to the east coast and the west coast which is dramatically different in the essence of what kind of whale watching happens there," he said." The beluga whale population is estimated at just under 60,000, which makes it the largest concentration of whales in the world," he added.
New rules unrealistic
Operators have told the federal government that it's impossible to follow the rules, even if they wanted to." When we talked to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans back in 2004, we explained to them that if we abide by the regulations ... we would be breaking the law as soon as we put our boats in the water because literally right on our tails, we get out on the water [and] the beluga whales are right there," said Daudrich.
Churchill's three operators, Sea North Tours, Churchill Wild Seal River Heritage Lodge, and Daudrich’s own business, know what they're doing and want a say in how they are regulated. "We have 100 years combined experience in the eco-tourism industry," he said. "We consider the whales our business partners."
Dwight Allen, who runs Sea North Tours, says he's optimistic the issue will be resolved after a recent visit by Manitoba MP Shelly Glover, giving tour operators the chance to plead their case." I was very surprised that Shelly Glover was receptive to us," he said. "She's on board to help us ask for a complete exemption for our area."
Allen says Glover has been in Churchill before and has seen first-hand how the belugas approach the boats. "She understands where we're coming from," he said. "We have our community behind us. We have Travel Manitoba. We have a lot of support," he said. "Yes, I am feeling confident we are going to be able to achieve our goals as being exempted," he added.