Scuba Diver Receives Massive Fine for Getting Too Close to Killer Whales

by Lauren Boisvert

A diver in Canada was recently fined 12,000 Canadian dollars, which equals $9,250 American, for swimming too close to a killer whale pod in 2020. Thomas Gould “knowingly interacted” with the pod of seven Northern resident orcas around Prince Rupert Harbour in British Columbia, Canada, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

This is the largest amount fined for this kind of offense, which broke Section 7 of the Marine Mammal Regulations of Canada’s Fisheries Act. It is illegal to swim, dive, or interact with marine mammals, and vessels must keep at least 650 feet away from orca whales in British Columbia waters, according to the Fisheries Act.

According to the DFO, this particular pod of orcas has been frequenting Prince Rupert Harbour for 10 years. There are signs in the area warning boaters of the regulations, and to steer clear of the mammals. According to evidence in the case, per Newsweek, Gould’s boat tried several times to speed ahead of the pod. He also entered the water near the pod at least twice.

“Watching whales and other marine mammals in their natural surroundings gives Canadians an opportunity to better appreciate these beautiful animals,” the DFO said in a statement. “But when humans get too close, we risk disturbing and even harming them.”

Why Interacting With Killer Whales is Such a Serious Offense

Orcas, also called killer whales, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the United States. In Canada, they’re protected under the Species At Risk Act as well as the Marine Mammal Regulations. They are found in every ocean in the world, according to NOAA. There is not enough data on orcas to know if every ecotype is threatened, but specifically, the Southern Resident Population of orcas is considered endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Orcas were long targeted by hunters, fishermen, and, yes, theme parks and aquariums. Now, orcas have to survive food limitations, habitat contamination, chemical spills, and disturbances from boats and other water vessels. Globally, NOAA estimates there are around 50,000 killer whales, with the Southern Residents numbering only 75.

Killer whales, despite being called killer whales, are generally curious, social, and highly emotional animals. A killer whale will usually stay in its familial pod for its entire life. Additionally, orca pods can go back at least four generations.

Three Orcas Prove They’re Not to be Messed With

In late July, a video surfaced of three orca whales hunting down a great white shark. The footage is almost unbelievable, if we didn’t already know that killer whales are nothing to sneeze at. Two orcas circle the shark, while a third comes up from below and takes a huge bite.

Killer whales have the most varied diet of any marine mammal, but they specialize in seals, penguins, and large fish. Now, apparently, they’ve moved on to great whites. As the top of the food chain, they can have their choice of prey.